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 | COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on many sectors of our society, including the United States Postal Service (USPS). With a significant decline in mail volume due to the virus, the agency is in danger of insolvency. U.S. PIRG is calling on Congress to act immediately to keep the postal service open and serving the American public. Specifically, it must include the financial relief USPS needs as part of the fourth COVID-19 relief package.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | COVID-19

Former CFPB Director Rich Cordray offers insights on consumer protection, government response to COVID-19

During an online discussion hosted by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Richard Cordray laid out urgent consumer protection priorities for Congress and the Trump administration, while offering advice to consumers struggling at this difficult time.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | COVID-19

Five state treasurers call on ventilator manufacturers to remove repair restrictions

U.S. PIRG has been pressuring ventilator manufacturers to remove restrictions on who can fix these life-saving devices. Our efforts, along with those of our allies at Repair.org, got a boost today, when five state treasurers -- Pennsylvania‘s Joe Torsella, Delaware’s Colleen Davis, Illinois’ Michael Frerichs, Rhode Island’s Seth Magaziner, and Colorado’s Dave Young -- sent a letter to manufacturers calling for them to release proprietary repair manuals, service keys, schematics and repair software. 

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Blog Post | COVID-19

Debt collectors are going after consumers during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s time for the CFPB to step up. | Gideon Weissman

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Blog Post | COVID-19

Comprehensive Testing Needed Now! | Laura Deehan

We are just weeks away from the United States’ expected COVID-19 peak, and as scores of state and local officials are making clear, rather than rollbacks, we need broader testing capacity with the federal government leading the effort. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Higher Ed

Education Department offers students much-needed relief, but additional action necessary

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced today that the Education Department would allow federal student loan borrowers to forgo payments for 60 days without penalty.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Higher Ed

U.S. PIRG urges Congress to freeze student loan repayment during coronavirus outbreak

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

Advocates say to remove barriers to fixing ventilators, other COVID-19-related medical equipment

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

Bill introduced to protect Americans’ credit scores during coronavirus crisis

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (HI) and Sherrod Brown (OH), both members of the Senate Banking Committee, introduced new legislation Tuesday to minimize the adverse impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on Americans’ credit reports. Ed Mierzwinski, senior director for U.S. PIRG’s Federal Consumer Programs, issued a statement in response.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG

Bailouts for fracking, cruise lines, other non-essential industries the wrong response to coronavirus crisis

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

In Your Face

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Plugging In

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2017

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Lead In Fidget Spinners

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund & Frontier Group | Consumer Protection

Older Consumers in the Financial Marketplace

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Blog Post | Consumer Tips, Public Health, Consumer Protection

Small toys, big hazard

When I got pregnant with my second kid, I was excited and nervous to have a new baby in the house.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Half of CFPB Complaints in 2019 About Credit Reports As House Brings Reforms To Floor | Ed Mierzwinski

On Wednesday, the full U.S. House is expected to vote on a credit reporting reform package, HR 3621, the Comprehensive CREDIT Act. Meanwhile, a PIRG analysis finds that half of all complaints to the CFPB in 2019 concerned credit reporting and the most-complained about companies, in the entire database, were the so-called  Big 3 credit bureaus.

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Blog Post

American Farm Bureau Reaffirms Support for Right to Repair | Kevin O'Reilly

The American Farm Bureau Federation, which represents almost 6 million member families across the United States, voted decisively yesterday to endorse their members’ ability to fix their equipment when it breaks. In doing so, they set clear guidelines on what kind of policy they think will solve the problem.

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

U.S. PIRG and Leading Groups Support Findings of Norwegian Privacy Report | Ed Mierzwinski

In support of a report by colleagues from the Norwegian Consumer Council on whether the data sharing and privacy practices of a number of dating and other smartphone apps were in compliance with European privacy rules (GDPR) or the new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), U.S. PIRG and other leading groups sent joint letters to key policymakers, including the California, Oregon and TexaS Attorneys General, the Federal Trade Commission and all members of the U.S. House and Senate. 

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

CFPB Appoints Task "Farce" On Consumer Law | Ed Mierzwinski

Last week, CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger appointed four lawyers and professors to a "Taskforce on Federal Consumer Law." To my knowledge, none have worked for consumer protection organizations yet all have worked as industry consultants or been aligned with industry views, although all have previous government experience. I am aware of several distinguished professors with CFPB experience who were rejected. Incredibly, the announcement of this better-described "Task Farce" claimed inspiration from a distinguished bi-partisan commission established by the Consumer Credit Protection Act in 1968." 

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Blog Post | Make VW Pay, Transportation

Some states are spending funds from VW 'Dieselgate' settlement on diesel

When it comes to clean transportation, most U.S. states are underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities for violating emissions standards.

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Maryland and Maine become the first states to ban plastic foam. Who's next?

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Blog Post

U.S. PIRG endorses bipartisan bill to end hunger on college campuses

A bipartisan consensus is forming around at least one issue: battling hunger among college students.

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Right to Repair campaign pushes Apple to make some initial changes

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PIRG calls for improvements in food recall system after CDC reports yet another E. coli outbreak

Here we go again: In April, another illness outbreak was tied to contaminated food, this time sickening over 170 people in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia.

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Blog Post

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?

Blog Post

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.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

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.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

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. 

Blog Post

Most airlines are only offering vouchers, not refunds, when passengers cancel their flights due to concerns about COVID-19.

Public Health

Responding to the COVID crisis

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.

 

Consumer Protection

Record volume of CFPB complaints encapsulates why Americans need greater financial protection

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.

 

Transportation

New Jersey to invest more than $60 million in electric transportation after rejoining RGGI

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.

 

Public Health

New Jersey says 'enough' to flavored vape pods

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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