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 | Transportation

Highway Administration Reinstates Clean Air Rule In Response to Lawsuit

In a victory for climate and clean air, the Federal Highway Administration responded to a lawsuit brought by U.S. PIRG, NRDC, and the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina by reinstating a federal requirement that state and local planners track and curb carbon pollution from cars and trucks on the national highways, which is a major contributor to climate change.

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Blog Post | Transportation

PIRG to FTC: Used Cars Subject To Recalls Are Not “Safe” | Michael Landis

You’d think that a car dealer couldn’t say that a used car is “safe” if that car is subject to a safety recall (like the Takata airbag recall or the GM ignition switch recall).  But, because of a recent action taken by the Federal Trade Commission, used car dealers can do just that.  To fix this obvious problem, U.S. PIRG and other leading car safety advocacy groups—Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (CARS) and the Center for Auto Safety—have sued the FTC and are asking the court to invalidate the FTC’s action.

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News Release | CALPIRG | Transportation

CALPIRG Joins Asm. Holden in Calling for 710 Tunnel Alternatives

Today we stood with Assemblymember Chris Holden and called for alternatives to the 710 tunnel. A tunnel project would not only be costly for Californians in the short term, but would exacerbate pollution and traffic for decades to come. 

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News Release | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Volkswagen Settlement Funds Headed to California Could Help Accelerate All-electric Transportation Revolution

“Volkswagen lied to the American people and the residents of California paid the price,” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director with CALPIRG Education Fund. “VW’s crime is now an historic opportunity to help clean up our transportation system and accelerate the transition to a cleaner, healthier, 21st century transportation network. We must make sure these funds are not squandered on dirty, outdated technology like diesel and natural gas instead of all-electric options that can help save lives and protect the planet.” she added. 

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

From Deceit to Transformation

A new report from CALPIRG Education finds that $381.3 from the Volkswagen (VW) settlement is headed to California to help clean up the state’s transportation system and recommends using the funds to purchase electric vehicle fast charging stations for the state’s highways along with an aggressive expansion of all-electric transit buses to replace aging, dirty, diesel buses.

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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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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.

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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.” 

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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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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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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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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Transportation in Transition

A review of data from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration and Census Bureau for America’s 100 most populous urbanized areas – which are home to over half of the nation’s population – shows that the decline in per-capita driving has taken place in a wide variety of regions. From 2006 to 2011, the average number of miles driven per resident fell in almost three-quarters of America’s largest urbanized areas for which up-to-date and accurate data are available.

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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Moving off the Road

Californians have cut their per-person driving miles by 6.6 percent since 2005, while the nation’s long term driving boom appears to have ended, according to a new report from the CALPIRG Education Fund.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Why Is Our Infrastructure So Terrible? | Sean Doyle

America is facing a $1.4 trillion infrastructure funding crisis. This isn't some distant problem; it's already having a real effect on everyday Americans.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Good Things Come to Those On Bikes | Sean Doyle

Pull the bike out of the closet, pump up those tires, and dust off the helmet because it's Bike to Work Week!

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Blog Post | Transportation

Don’t Believe the Hype – Millennials’ Transportation Habits Are Changing | Sean Doyle

Despite news stories claiming that Millennials are buying up cars at record rates, the reality is quite different. After adjusting previous studies to account for differences in the size of the generations measured, on a per-capita basis, Millennials are 29 percent less likely than members of Generation X to own a car.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

All Americans Deserve Clean Air to Breathe, On Earth Day and Every Day | Sean Doyle

U.S. DOT asks if we should measure global warming pollution from transportation.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Owning Fewer Cars Isn’t Just For Millennials | Sean Doyle

New transportation options are making it easier for people to use transit more, own fewer cars, and even save money on transportation.

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