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

News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report Finds Drivers Pay Less Than Half the Cost of Roads

As Congress struggles to renew the federal transportation law, a new report from CALPIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group finds that drivers currently pay less than half the total cost of roads, and argues that while increasing gas taxes could fill the shortfall, it would leave other problems unaddressed.

> Keep Reading
Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Who Pays For Roads?

Many Americans believe that drivers pay the full cost of the roads they use through gas taxes and other user fees. That has never been true, and it is less true now than at any other point in modern times. Today, general taxes paid by all taxpayers cover nearly as much of the cost of building and maintaining highways as the gas tax and other fees paid by drivers.

> Keep Reading

Tesoro Toll Road Extension Denied

In March 2015, CALPIRG won a big victory when the San Diego Water Board voted 6-0 to uphold a previous decision to deny the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) a permit to build a 5.5-mile extension to their existing toll road, State Route 241. After reviewing transportation projects across America, CALPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group selected TCA’s Tesoro Extension Project as one of 11 “highway boondoggles,” because of TCA’s poor financial track record on their previous toll roads.

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News Release | CALPIRG | Transportation

Tesoro Toll Road Extension Denied Permit

On Monday, March 16th, the San Diego Water Board voted 6-0 to deny the Toothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) a permit to build a 5.5 mile toll road extension. Last September this project was one of eleven featured in our study entitled “Highway Boondoggles – Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future.” 

> Keep Reading
Media Hit | Transportation

Why own a car when you can share one?

CALPIRG Education Fund's recent report, the Innovative Transportation Index, found that San Francisco is a national leader in innovative ways to get around town, second only to Austin, Texas.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Down the road, fewer will drive, preferring public transportation

A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America's Future," released by the CALPIRG Education Fund shows the slowdown in driving will continue in the years to come.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Young people driving less, transportation planners clueless, report says

Millennials are possibly the first generation who could sing the Beatles classic "(Baby You Can) Drive My Car" and really mean it.

Millennials are the children of baby boomers and Generation X, and they are radically altering the way the nation connects, warns a new report by U.S. PIRG, the national office of the Public Interest Research Group.

The driving miles logged by those ages 16 to 34 in 2009, for example, was 23% lower than it was for the same age group in 2001, according to the report.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Younger generation exits passion for driving

Every generation thinks it's going to change the world.

The Millennials, born between 1983 and 2000, already are driving a big change, according to a study released Tuesday. Younger Americans are driving less, stopping a six-decade-long rise, the report from two advocacy groups concludes.

"The driving boom of the 20th century is over," said Garo Manjikian, legislative advocate for CalPIRG, a California nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on a range of consumer and energy issues, which prepared the report with the Frontier Group, a policy research organization.

Millennials seem to be more willing to put off getting a driver's license and feel less need to get behind the wheel because of the high cost of owning a car, a preference for living in cities where parking is at a premium and the influence of technology, which makes it less necessary to drive to work, shop or visit friends.

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Direction

 Berkeley, CA—As the average number of miles driven by Americans heads into its eighth year of decline, a new report from the CALPIRG Education Fund finds that the slowdown in driving is likely to continue. Baby Boomers are moving out of the phase in their life when they do the most commuting, while driving-averse Millennials move into that phase. These demographic changes will likely keep driving down for decades, according to the report, “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future.”

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Media Hit | Budget, Transportation

ABC 7: Study: Young people are driving less

A new study shows young people are driving less and they like it that way.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Economic Stimulus or Simply More Misguided Spending?

President-elect Obama has declared that the next recovery plan must do more than just pump money into the economy. It will also create the infrastructure that America needs for the 21st century.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A Better Way to Go

America’s automobile-centered transportation system was a key 
component of the nation’s economic prosperity during the 20th century. But our transportation system is increasingly out of step with the challenges of the 21st century. Rising fuel prices, growing traffic congestion, and the need to address critical challenges such as global warming and America’s addiction to imported oil all point toward the need for a new transportation future.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Tax, Transportation

Road Privatization

Privatization of toll roads is a growing trend. During 2007, sixteen states had some privatized road project formally proposed or underway. In the last two years Indiana and Chicago signed multi-billiondollar private concession deals for public roads for 75 years and 99 years respectively. As a result of these deals, toll rates on these roads will increase steadily and revenues will be paid to private company shareholders rather than to the public budget.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Slick Politics

In 1996 and again in 2000, CALPIRG Education Fund completed studies of the levels of money the oil industry spends on lobbying expenses and campaign contributions in California state politics. With consumer and environmental activists continuing to be frustrated in their attempts to enact meaningful petroleum diversity policies for California despite record high gas prices and stubborn pollution problems, we decided to examine once more the effects that money spent by the oil industry has on public policy.

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Report | CALPIRG | Transportation

America Idles

America is too dependent on oil, and consumers are paying the price. For the last two years, gasoline prices have been creeping upward. In 2003, a gallon of regular gasoline averaged $1.56; so far in 2005, the same gallon has averaged $2.29, with prices in some areas spiking close to $4.00 in August and September after Hurricane Katrina disrupted supply from the Gulf Coast.

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