Stop Highway Boondoggles

More and more of us are moving off the roads. 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. 

It's time to shift our transportation priorities

These days, more and more of us are moving off the roads. We’re driving less on average than we have in years past — driving peaked in America in 2007. Since then, the Millennial Generation has led the way, with more people walking, biking and taking transit. In fact, in 2014 more people used public transportation than they had since 1956! Meanwhile, new technologies and other options, such as bike-sharing, are making it easier for people to rely less on cars.

Yet, despite these well-documented changes in transportation trends, we’re still spending roughly $27 billion expanding roads and building new highways every year. Meanwhile, other needs — from expanding public transportation to critical bridge repairs — go unmet. At a time when one in nine bridges in America are considered “structurally deficient,” these confused priorities put millions of Americans in danger every single day.

Across the country there are countless proposed highway projects that are not just expensive — they’re outright boondoggles. Some of these projects were proposed decades ago, and address problems that no longer exist. Others don’t take into account the fact that more and more Americans want —  and are using —  other options to get around. And more have serious negative impacts on the surrounding communities that undercut their value. 

Our list of 11 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. 

The boondoggles we are working to stop include:

Washington: $3.1 billion to $4.1 billion — Seattle is building a massive tunnel under the city that, by the state’s own estimates, would increase delays downtown compared to a cheaper, more transit-focused plan. Meanwhile, the tunneling machine has been stuck underground for more than a year, only one-tenth of the way through the tunnel. 

Washington: $3 billion — A rebranding of two old-fashioned highway expansion projects into the “Puget Sound Gateway” at a time when the state has declared that driving is likely to stagnate for decades. 

Michigan: $2.7 billion — A highway expansion project based on traffic data compiled before Detroit’s population dropped following the recession, it would eliminate eleven pedestrian bridges that connect two now-rebounding neighborhoods.

Illinois and Indiana: $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion — A new privatized toll road proposed primarily to speed freight trucks across the Midwest may instead charge tolls too high to attract trucks, and will likely require hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.

CAMPAIGN UPDATE: Newly elected Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has issued an executive order suspending all new interstate infrastructure projects until they undergo a review. 

Texas: $1.5 billion — A nine-mile, riverfront highway through the heart of Dallas would have minimal impact on congestion.

Wisconsin: $800 million  — An existing highway through Milwaukee would be rebuilt as an eight-lane route, despite declining traffic counts and objections from local officials and citizen groups.

North Carolina: $400 million to $600 million — A massive highway expansion project is planned for a highway which is no longer used enough to justify the expansion. The proposed project would destroy homes and businesses in a mature, livable neighborhood.

Ohio: $331 million — A $100-million-a-mile road has been proposed for a community where driving has been stagnant for years, and where residents prefer repairs to existing roads and investment in transit improvements.

Maryland: $234 million — A conversion to a freeway based on outdated traffic projections, while the governor claims he's uncertain whether the state can afford popular expansions of Metro and other overcrowded transit.

California: $200 million — A proposed extension of a toll road that is already in danger of default because of lower-than-projected traffic.

CAMPAIGN UPDATE: The San Diego Water Board voted 6-0 in March to uphold a previous decision to deny the Toothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) a permit to build a 5.5 mile extension to their existing 241 toll road.

Georgia: $49 million to $100 million — A new road northwest of Savannah is intended to relieve traffic from an existing state highway, where traffic is lower than projections. 

Moving America forward 

It’s time to put an end to boondoggles like these, 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 | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

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We're calling on big restaurant chains to stop the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Tell KFC to stop serving meat raised on routine antibiotics.

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