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

Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles

Even though the Driving Boom is now over, state and federal governments continue to pour vast sums of money into the construction of new highways and expansion of old ones – at the expense of urgent needs such as road and bridge repairs, improvements in public transportation and other transportation priorities. Eleven proposed highway projects across the country – slated to cost at least $13 billion – exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending.

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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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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Course

Universities and colleges across the country are taking steps to encourage their communities, students, faculty and staff to decrease their reliance on personal vehicles.  These efforts are working well - saving money for universities, improving the quality of life college in towns, and giving today's students experience in living life without depending on a car.

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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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News Release | CALPIRG | Transportation

Fresno Leaders Call for $2 Billion in High-Speed Rail Money to Come to the Central Valley

High-speed rail supporters call on the Department of Transportation to invest in California's high-speed rail line all the way up to Merced and all the way don to Bakersfield. 

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Media Hit | Transportation

The Bakersfield Californian: Fresno rally calls for more bullet train money

Supporters of California's high-speed rail project gathered in Fresno Wednesday to urge federal officials to give the state most of the $2.4 billion in bullet train money turned away in February by Florida.

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News Release | CALPIRG | Transportation

Myth Busted: Road Costs Not Covered by Gas Taxes

A new report released today by the CLPIRG disproves the common misperception that road-building is paid for by user fees, showing that gas taxes cover barely half the costs of building and maintaining roads, a fraction which is likely to fall steadily. 

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Media Hit | Transportation

San Diego Union-Tribune: Obama revs up support for transportation funding

Today President Barack Obama -- surrounded by transportation officials, politicians and policy experts -- called on Republicans to get behind his initial $50 billion spending proposal to bring the country’s transportation infrastructure into the 21st century.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Los Angeles Times: L.A. mass transit agencies make only a token effort to get people onboard

Your basic middle-class L.A. household spends about $8,600 a year on gas, insurance, parking and vehicle maintenance, according to the California Public Interest Research Group, a watchdog organization.

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