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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Report | CALPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Direction

The Driving Boom—a six decade-long period of steady increases in per-capita driving in the United States—is over.

Americans drive fewer total miles today than we did eight years ago, and fewer per person than we did at the end of Bill Clinton’s first term. The unique combination of conditions that fueled the Driving Boom—from cheap gas prices to the rapid expansion of the workforce during the Baby Boom generation—no longer exists. Meanwhile, a new generation—the Millennials—is demanding a new American Dream less dependent on driving.

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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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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.

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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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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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Blog Post | Transportation

Pulling a FAST one on our Transportation Future | Sean Doyle

For the first time in a decade, and after roughly three dozen short-term extensions, Congress has pulled together and passed a transportation-funding law lasting longer than two years. There is only one problem: the new law is the wrong deal for the country.

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