Stop Highway Boondoggles

More and more of us are looking for better transportation options. Yet we’re still spending billions to expand roads and build new highways every year, even as other needs — from expanding public transportation to critical bridge repairs — go unmet. Across the country there are countless proposed highway projects that are not just expensive — they’re outright boondoggles. We need your help to stop them. 

America is in a long-term transportation funding crisis. Our roads, bridges and transit systems are falling into disrepair. Demand for public transportation, as well as safe biking and walking routes, is growing. Traditional sources of transportation revenue, especially the gas tax, are not keeping pace with the needs. Even with the recent passage of a five-year federal transportation bill, the future of transportation funding remains uncertain.

In the past, we’ve identified proposed highway projects across the country that illustrate the need for a fresh approach to transportation funding. In our two reports, Highway Boondoggles and Highway Boondoggles 2, we’ve picked out 23 of the worst examples of irresponsible transportation spending, which combined, would cost billions in scarce transportation dollars. These projects are either intended to address problems that do not exist, or will have grave and destructive impacts on surrounding communities. And they represent just a sample of the many questionable highway projects across the country that could cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars to build, and many more billions over the course of upcoming decades to maintain.

Americans’ transportation needs are changing, so why aren’t America’s transportation spending priorities?

State governments continue to spend billions on highway expansion projects that fail to solve congestion 

In Texas, for example, a $2.8 billion project widened Houston’s Katy Freeway to 26 lanes, making it the widest freeway in the world. But commutes after its 2012 opening: By 2014 morning commuters were spending 30 percent more time in their cars, and afternoon commuters were spending 55 percent more time in their cars.

Or consider that a $1 billion widening of I-405 in Los Angeles that disrupted commutes for five years — including two complete shutdowns of a 10-mile stretch of one of the nation’s busiest highways — had no demonstrable success in reducing congestion. Just five months after the widened road reopened in 2014, the rush-hour trip took longer than it had while construction was still ongoing. 

Highway expansion saddles future generations with expensive maintenance needs, at a time when America’s existing highways are already crumbling 

Between 2009 and 2011, states spent $20.4 billion annually for expansion or construction projects totaling just 1 percent of the country’s road miles, according to Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense. During the same period, they spent just $16.5 billion on repair and preservation of existing highways — the other 99 percent of American roads. 

What's more, according to the Federal Highway Administration, the United States added more lane-miles of roads between 2005 and 2013 — a period in which per-capita vehicle miles traveled declined — than in the two decades between 1984 and 2004.

Federal, state and local governments spent roughly as much money on highway expansion projects in 2010 as they did a decade earlier, despite lower per-capita driving.

Our list of highway boondoggles

We’ve targeted some of America’s biggest highway boondoggles, and are working to stop them from moving forward. Just as importantly, we plan to use these examples as a way to spark a serious conversation about making smarter transportation choices, and giving us more options to get around.  

Click here to see our list of highway boondoggles

Americans’ long-term travel needs are changing 

In 2014, transit ridership in the U.S. hit its highest point since 1956. And recent years have seen the emergence of new ways to get around, including carsharing, bikesharing and ridesharing, and the influence of those new options is only beginning to be felt.

According to an in 2015, more than half of Americans — and nearly two-thirds of Millennials, the country’s largest generation — want to live “in a place where they do not need to use a car very often.” Similar trends exist for older adults. An showed older adults in general put the creation of pedestrian-friendly streets and local investment in public transportation in their top five priorities for their communities.

Moving America forward 

It’s time to put an end to highway boondoggles, so we are working with concerned citizens, community groups, policy makers and elected officials to send these wasteful highway projects back to the drawing board.

Our lives, our communities, and how we get around are constantly changing. It’s well past time for our transportation spending priorities to reflect these changes, rather than the outdated assumptions that so many of them are based upon. We deserve to have a safe, reliable transportation system that offers real options for however people might want to get around. Stopping these highway boondoggles is an important first step for getting us there.

Issue updates

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

U.S. PIRG denounces federal proposal to stall Clean Car Standards

Americans stand to breathe more polluted air as a result of a rollback announced today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed to roll back the “Clean Car” fuel economy standards, which, if left in place, would eliminate more than 2 billion metric tons of emissions.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Massachusetts to Spend VW Settlement Money on Electric Buses and EV Charging Infrastructure

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

New Report Identifies Nine Wasteful Highway Projects Across the Country

Highway projects are notorious for wasting taxpayer dollars. Now, a new report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated collectively to cost at least $30 billion.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

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66 Mayors Sign Letter to U.S. DOT Urging Action to Reduce Carbon Emissions from Transportation

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 4

America's infrastructure is in rough shape. Many of our roads, bridges, and transit systems are aging and in need of repair. Yet, year after year, state and local governments propose billions of dollars' worth of new and expanded highways that do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from repairs and 21st century priorities. This report profiles nine highway projects that epitomize the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Plugging In

The adoption of large numbers of electric vehicles (EVs) offers many benefits for cities, including cleaner air and the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Electric vehicles are far cleaner than gasoline-powered cars, with lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower emissions of the pollutants that contribute to smog and particulate matter.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

From Deceit to Transformation

Volkswagen (VW) perpetuated a fraud on the American people, deceiving consumers into believing that they were getting the best possible combination of performance and sustainability. But VW’s promises were nothing more than lies that significantly harmed our collective health and the health of our environment. As a result of the settlements that followed this fraud, an Environmental Mitigation Trust (EMT) was set up with $2.9 billion dollars to be distributed to states to reduce transportation emissions.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 3

America’s infrastructure is in rough shape. Many of our roads, bridges and transit systems are aging and in need of repair. Yet, year after year, state and local governments propose billions of dollars’ worth of new and expanded highways that often do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from infrastructure repairs and 21st century transportation priorities.

> Keep Reading

Pages

News Post | Transportation

To Drive or Not to Drive? Changing Transportation Habits in a Car-Centric Country | Matt Casale

Here's a guest post from our friend Meryl Compton at Frontier Group. Meryl writes about the challenges of deciding whether or not to ditch a car in a car-centric country.

> Keep Reading
News Post | Transportation

The Trump Administration’s Flawed Reasons for Rolling Back Clean Car Standards | Matt Casale

The Trump administration is making some pretty outlandish claims to justify its roll back of the nation’s most effective program at fighting climate change. Asserting that stronger fuel economy standards make our roads less safe, the administration moved last week to weaken Obama-era clean car standards -- but their claims just aren’t true.

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News Post | Transportation

Georgia's $2 billion Truck-Only Lanes: A Lesson in Outdated Transportation Planning | Matt Casale

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News Post | Transportation

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The stakes in the current infrastructure debate are high. But what matters most is not the size of any federal infrastructure package, nor how it is financed, nor even how many jobs it creates in the coming years. What matters most is building the infrastructure that will enable America to respond to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

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News Post | Transportation

Trump Administration Proposes Cuts to Critical Transit Investment Programs | Matt Casale

The Trump Administration wants to build highways and appears to be willing to do so at the expense of critical transit investment programs designed to build a transportation system that is cleaner, healthier, more accessible, and equipped to build an economy for the 21st Century. Eliminating funding for TIGER and Transit New Starts Grants, as the administration has proposed to do, is a step in the wrong direction.

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