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 Ranks 70 Major American Cities For High-Tech Transportation Options

A new report from CALPIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group ranks American cities on how many new technology-enabled services and tools they have to meet transportation needs. It finds that San Francisco ranks 2nd, Los Angeles ranks 4th, and San Diego ranks 8th among the nation’s 70 largest cities.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

The Innovative Transportation Index

This report reviews the availability of 11 technology-enabled transportation services – including online ridesourcing, carsharing, ridesharing, taxi hailing, static and real-time transit information, multi-modal apps, and virtual transit ticketing – in 70 U.S. cities. It finds that residents of 19 cities, with a combined population of nearly 28 million people, have access to eight or more of these services, with other cities catching up rapidly.

> Keep Reading
News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report Shows Mounting Evidence of Millennials’ Shift Away from Driving

“Millennials are different from their parents, and those differences aren’t going away,” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director at CALPIRG Education Fund. “After five years of economic growth with stagnant driving, it’s time for federal and California governments to wake up to growing evidence that Millennials don’t want to drive as much as their parents did. This change has big implications and policy makers shouldn’t be asleep at the wheel.”

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Millennials in Motion

Millennials are less car-focused than older Americans and previous generations of young people, and their transportation behaviors continue to change in ways that reduce driving. Now is the time for the nation’s transportation policies to acknowledge, accommodate and support Millennials’ demands for a greater array of transportation choices.

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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 | Budget, Transportation

New Report: Long-Term Drop in How Much People Drive, Youth Desire More Transportation Options

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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Media Hit | Transportation

The New York Times: Dollars for Roads or Dollars for Rail

Although the price tag for high-speed rail is daunting, it is important to consider the budgetary and societal costs of highway and airport expansions that California would need without it. 

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Media Hit | Transportation

New York Times: California Bullet Train Project Advances Amid Cries of Boondoggle

With a brashness and ambition that evoke a California of a generation ago, state leaders — starting with Gov. Jerry Brown — have rallied around a plan to build a 520-mile high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, cutting the trip from a six-hour drive to a train ride of two hours and 38 minutes. And they are doing it in the face of what might seem like insurmountable political and fiscal obstacles.

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News Release | CALPIRG | Transportation

Principles for Public Private Partnerships and California’s High-Speed Rail Project

A first-of-its-kind report outlines principles for utilizing public-private partnerships to build high-speed rail in California. The research report released by CALPIRG examines the experience with public-private partnerships for high-speed rail in other countries and the U.S.

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News Release | CALPIRG | Transportation

CALPIRG Statement in Response to LAO Report

Statement by Emily Rusch in response to LAO report.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Solutions to America’s Oil Crisis

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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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Big Money to Big Oil

As the oil industry continues to collect record profits from high oil and gasoline prices, President George Bush is poised to sign into law an energy bill that allows the oil companies to pay even less in taxes and less in royalties for publicly-owned resources. Meanwhile, the new energy law will exempt the oil industry from several environmental laws, allowing even the most profitable companies to pollute our waterways and drinking water.

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