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 | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

CFPB Turns 5 Years Old, PIRG Celebrates Accomplishments, Warns of Ongoing Threats

This week, on July 21, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns 5 years old. The CFPB, a brainchild of then-professor Elizabeth Warren, was championed by U.S. PIRG and Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), a PIRG-backed coalition of civil rights and community groups, as part of Wall Street Reform legislation enacted in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse triggered by risky bank practices. U.S. PIRG warned, however, that the successful bureau, the first federal financial agency with only one job, protecting consumers, faces continued threats.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumers Count: Five years of the CFPB standing up for consumers | Kathryn Lee

This week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau turns five years old! As part of our efforts to tell more people about the CFPB, we're cross-posting this video blog and comments written by Zixta Q. Martinez of the CFPB (check out the infographic at the end, too!).

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Letter: Protecting the FTC from Special Interest Attacks

While much of our work has been in defense of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), we also support the efforts of the over-100 year old Federal Trade Commission.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Delayed CFPB/Other Wall Street Reform Rollbacks Happening Today On House Floor | Ed Mierzwinski

Last month the House canceled floor consideration of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. FSGG is back on the floor today and tomorrow. We urge support of amendments to protect the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) but, since they won't pass, we urge a no vote on the bill. Here's an updated excerpt from my previous blog.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Court Rejects PIRG-Opposed Swipe Fee Settlement With Visa/Mastercard | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit threw out a preliminary $7.25 billion settlement between Visa and Mastercard and any merchant accepting credit cards (including U.S. PIRG), ruling that despite that seemingly massive payment for past practices that the settlement gave inadequate relief to merchants going forward, as it essentially immunized the networks for any future illegal conduct while providing mostly illusory benefits. Since we accept credit cards from our members, we, joined by Consumer Reports, had formally objected to the settlement as consumer advocates who also happen to be merchant class members (most merchant associations also objected).

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG Commends Supporters of Duckworth Amendment to Protect Our Troops From High-Cost Loans

Last night, on a 32-30 bipartisan vote, the House Armed Services Committee supported the Tammy Duckworth (IL) amendment to strike language from the National Defense Authorization Act that would have delayed Pentagon-proposed improvements to the Military Lending Act of 2007. It's a critical victory for servicemembers, veterans and their families, although the fight to protect our troops from high-cost loans will continue.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

PIRG Commends Release of Labor Dept.'s Proposed Rule To End Conflicted Retirement Advice

PIRG today commended the public release of the Department of Labor’s proposed rule that would strengthen the ability for Americans to save for retirement by addressing conflicts of interest that arise when brokers and financial advisers give retirement advice. Wall Street will fight the rule hard, because it requires them to put consumers first.

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News Release | NJPIRG Law and Policy Center | Budget

NEW REPORT: New Jersey Receives "B" in Annual Report on Transparency of Government Spending

New Jersey received a “B” when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2015: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the sixth annual report of its kind by the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group Law and Policy Center. New Jersey's grade improved since last year, jumping from a C+ to this year's B.

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Media Hit | Financial Reform

Credit Bureaus’ Deal to Improve Accuracy ‘Huge’ for Consumers

(Bloomberg) -- Buying homes, getting jobs and borrowing money will be easier after an agreement by the three biggest U.S. consumer credit reporting services with New York.[...] “It’s a sea change in the way the credit bureaus treat complaints,” said [U.S. PIRG's Ed] Mierzwinski. “The credit bureaus have been run by computers for years now. They’re going to have to hire more people and actually verify that what a creditor said is true.”

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Protection

FCC NET NEUTRALITY ORDER PROTECTS THE OPEN INTERNET

Today the FCC took not one but two critical actions to make sure that the Internet works for everybody. First, it issued a "Net Neutrality" order guaranteeing a free and open Internet. This Internet freedom order will prevent the phone and cable companies from granting fast lanes or other preferences to already powerful firms. The FCC also acted to override state laws that prevented local governments from building out broadband networks to compete with the phone and cable companies.

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Report | NJPIRG | Higher Ed

Issue Brief: Student Loan Debt in New Jersey

Without a new plan from Congress, on July 1 the itnerest rate on subsidized Stafford loans will double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

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Prescription For Danger

The fungal meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated steroid injections that killed 55 people to date and sickened more than 740 is one of the worst public health disasters the nation has seen in recent history. The tainted injections came from a drug manufacturer doing business as a “compounding pharmacy,” a classification which allowed them to evade the system of safety rules, inspections, and oversight that keep our drug supply safe.

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Report | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Budget, 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 | NJPIRG | Budget, Tax

Picking Up the Tab 2013

Some U.S.-based multinational firms and individuals avoid paying U.S. taxes by using accounting tricks to shift profits made in America to offshore tax havens—countries with minimal or no taxes. They benefit from their access to America’s markets, workforce, infrastructure and security; but they pay little or nothing for it—violating the basic fairness of the tax system and forcing other taxpayers to pick up the tab.

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Report | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Budget, Tax

Following the Money 2013

This is the fourth annual report card ranking of state government online spending transparency.

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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 | Financial Reform

We oppose latest effort to weaken CFPB, other bank regulators | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, the House Financial Services Committee holds its latest cattle-call markup of a package of industry-backed bills designed to weaken consumer, taxpayer, depositor and investor protections. We've signed a letter opposing the so-called TAILOR (Taking Account of Institutions with Low Operation Risk) Act, which piles redundant requirements onto the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other regulators to do what they already do by existing law--treat small banks and credit unions differently than mega-banks. Also, the PIRG-backed Americans for Financial Reform sent up a letter opposing the TAILOR Act and 6 more of the 10 bills on the agenda because they are designed to weaken consumer, taxpayer, depositor and investor protections.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

100+ Groups Oppose Provisions That Threaten Public Protections | Mike Litt

The White House is expected to release its fiscal year 2017 budget proposal tomorrow. U.S. PIRG and various state PIRGs joined a coalition of more than 100 groups that sent the following letter calling on President Barack Obama and all 535 members of Congress to oppose any federal appropriations bill that contains ideological policy riders. 

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Criticizes Banks Re Account Opening and Overdrafts, Offers Consumer Tips | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, the CFPB is holding a field hearing in Louisville on problems consumers face when opening bank accounts. It finds that big banks frequently offer consumers expensive accounts where they risk overdraft fees instead of affordable accounts. Further, the CFPB finds that the practices of specialty "bad check" credit bureaus make it harder to open accounts. The CFPB issued warnings to both the banks and credit bureaus while providing consumers with new tips and advice.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Debating trade and consumer protection in Brussels today | Ed Mierzwinski

I am in Brussels today debating consumer protection and the proposed US-European trade treaty known as the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP. Today's public event, and a second public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday with live webstream 9am-noon DC time) comparing the CFPB to its European counterparts, are sponsored by the PIRG-backed TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue.

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