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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.
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.
I’ve been reading the CFPB’s mail. It’s okay, you can too. It’s public. Not surprisingly, the latest CFPB consumer complaints paint a grim picture of the pandemic’s effect on family finances. I ask: Why isn’t the CFPB doing more to help struggling consumers?
Mortgage servicers failed Americans during the last recession. And if early data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is any indication, history may well be on its way to repeating.
This coming Monday, June 1, will mark the third full month that bills are due since COVID-19 was declared a national state of emergency in March. To help Americans manage their finances, U.S. PIRG Education Fund has published an updated guide with tips on what to do about paying bills during the crisis.
U.S. PIRG has joined leading consumer and banking organizations to applaud a bi-partisan Senate bill to broaden protections in the recent COVID-19 stimulus package. Under the CARES Act, Congress exempted Economic Impact Payments from offset for debts owed to federal and state agencies, except in the case of child support, but did not exempt them from court-ordered garnishment to pay creditors.
Most airlines are only offering vouchers, not refunds, when passengers cancel their flights due to concerns about COVID-19.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever, we need to work together to ensure that our government has a coordinated, strategic response to safeguard the public’s health, protect consumers from emerging dangers and ensure people can still participate fully in our democracy.
A U.S. PIRG report finds that complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reached record numbers in April. Credit reporting complaints, which historically top the list, increased by more than 20,000.
In New Jersey, a cleaner and more efficient transportation system is on the horizon. On April 17, three state agencies jointly announced the final Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) Strategic Funding Plan, which will allocate 75 percent of a total clean energy fund of more than $80 million to electrifying New Jersey’s transportation sector.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation to prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarette products in New Jersey, making it the second state to do so. The new law encompasses candy, fruit, mint and dessert flavored vape pods that appeal especially to teens, and which have contributed to an explosion in teen nicotine use across the country.
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