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 got longer 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 Urban Land Institute study 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 AARP study 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

Media Hit | Transportation

Sacramento Bee: Public Transit Needs More Investment

The central premise of the recent opinion piece, “Invest tax dollars in roads, not public transportation” is that Californians have given up on public transit, and we need to invest more in roads instead. The truth is that public transit provides a critical service, demand for which is near record highs - though investments have largely been drowned out by overinvestment in roads.

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Media Hit | Transportation

12 of America's Biggest Highway Boondoggles

Given that expanding highways at great public cost doesn’t improve rush-hour traffic, there are better ways to spend this money, argue report authors Jeff Inglis of Frontier Group and John C. Olivieri of U.S. PIRG. They identify a dozen road projects, costing $24 billion in all, that are “representative” of the problem.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

San Gabriel Valley Route 710 Tunnel Makes National List of Highway Boondoggles

A new study by the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies 12 of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $24 billion. Making the list of national highway boondoggles is the proposed San Gabriel Valley 710 Tunnel Project, which officials estimate would cost $5.6 billion. 

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 2

The second in our series of reports on wasteful highway projects, Highway Boondoggles 2 looks at 12 highway projects across the country that reflect a particularly troublesome mix of skewed transportation priorities, minimal benefits to local communities, and in some cases a huge price tag to boot. Together, these projects are expected to cost at least $24 billion in taxpayer money, exhausting limited funds that could be better spent on repair and maintenance or put toward critical investment in transit, biking, and pedestrian options that better meet current and future needs.

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Blog Post | Public Health, Consumer Protection, Democracy, Food, Transportation

State of the Union: Five Things We’ll Be Listening For | Chris MacKenzie

President Obama has hyped his final State of the Union address as a speech that will help to define his legacy. Here's how he can break new ground.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Study: Traffic Data Does Not Support Spending on Tesoro Extension

A new report by the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) Education Fund takes aim at the proposal by the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) in Orange County to extend the California 241 toll road, calling the “Tesoro Extension” a national example of wasteful highway spending that threatens to crowd out more important investments.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report: University Campuses Like UC Davis Are Transportation Trailblazers as Students Lead Shift From Driving

Davis, February 5th – As Millennials lead a national shift away from driving, universities like UC Davis are giving students new options for getting around and becoming innovators in transportation policy, according to a new report released today. The report, titled, “A New Course: How Innovative University Programs Are Reducing Driving on Campus and Creating New Models for Transportation Policy,” was released by CALPIRG Education Fund and features UC Davis.

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Media Hit | Transportation

SoCal residents are driving less, taking transit more, study says

Mirroring a national shift in transportation habits, Southern California residents are driving less and using transit more than they were a decade ago, according to a study by two national think tanks published Wednesday.

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Media Hit | Transportation

New Study Shows More People Leaving Cars At Home

A new report shows urban Californians are leading a trend of leaving cars at home and choosing bikes or public transit instead. It's a first-of-its-kind survey comparing urban transportation trends

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Media Hit | Transportation

Report: More Fresno Commuters ditching their cars

Fresno drivers were in their cars less and using public transit more than a decade ago, a new study showed.

The study, "Transportation in Transition," was released by the California Public Interest Research Group on Wednesday to show how Americans' travel habits have changed over the last ten years.

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Report | CalPIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group | Budget, Transportation

Transportation and the New Generation

A new report released today by the CalPIRG Education Fund with Frontier Group demonstrates that Americans have been driving less since the middle of last decade.

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Report | CALPIRG | Transportation

High-Speed Rail: Public, Private or Both?

Private sector companies are likely to play a major role in the construction of high-speed rail lines in the United States. Even as California nears construction of the nation’s first high-speed rail line, however, it remains unclear just how the private sector will participate in building out the nation’s high-speed rail network.

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Report | CALPIRG | Transportation

Do Roads Pay for Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding

To have a meaningful national debate over transportation policy—particularly at a time of tight public budgets—it is important to get past the myths and address the real, difficult choices America must make for the 21st century. 

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Next Stop: California

As California moves toward construction of a new high-speed rail network, the state has much to learn from experiences abroad. High-speed rail lines have operated for more than 45 years in Japan and for three decades in Europe, providing a wealth of information about what California can expect from high-speed rail and how the state can receive the greatest possible benefits from its investment.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax, Transportation

The Right Track

America’s highways and airports are increasingly congested. Our nation’s transportation system remains dependent on oil. And our existing transportation infrastructure is inadequate to the demands of the 21st century.

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Blog Post | Transportation

How Deadly are Your State’s Roads? | Sean Doyle

A new report by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows which states have the safest and most dangerous roads.  Here's how the states rank and what we can do about it.

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Blog Post | Transportation

House Transportation Bill is a Step Backwards, Lacks a Serious Funding Mechanism | Emily Rusch

Statement of U.S. PIRG Tax and Budget Associate Dan Smith on the U.S. House transportation reauthorization bill.

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