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 Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Boeing Max planes have ‘optional’ safety mechanisms

Newly-revealed details by the New York Times about of the crash of two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes may stun even the most hardened observer. The planes lacked a safety feature that may have warned pilots about problems because it was not required and Boeing charged airlines extra to include it. Adam Garber, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog issued the following statement.

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News Release | US PIRG | Public Health

New Report: More than two-thirds of states examined receive failing grades for efforts to reduce lead in school drinking water

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News Release | Solid Waste

After warning companies that "Void Warranty if Removed" are illegal, the FTC is expanding their investigation into anti-repair practices

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Antibiotics

EPA proposes use of 650,000 pounds of antibiotics a year on citrus fields

Public health and environmental groups urge EPA to deny antibiotic use on citrus.

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Blog Post

Zero Hunger campaign aims to end hunger on 10 college campuses

From Oregon to Kentucky, California to Maryland, students at college campuses across the country are teaming up to end student hunger by cutting food waste.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health

Senate Passes Bipartisan Farm Bill Free of Anti-Sustainability Amendments

We cannot grow healthy food without clean water and proper stewardship of our land.  Today, the Senate recognized that fact by passing a Farm Bill free of attacks on core public health and environmental protections. We congratulate Senate members for their hard work to keep the Senate version of the Farm Bill clean.  

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News Release | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Transportation

New Report Identifies Nine Wasteful Highway Projects Across the Country

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Public Health, Food

Congress Should Reject Pesticide-Laden Farm Bill

Today, Congress again considers a dirty Farm Bill that would undermine protections for clean water, sustainable farming, and our health.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

L'Oréal commits to disclose fragrance ingredients

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Financial Reform

Unlike CFPB’s “Snapshot,” PIRG report reveals which debt collectors Americans file complaints about most

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Report | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Public Health, Food, Health Care

Ending the Abuse of Antibiotics in Livestock Production

The following white paper outlines the case for immediate action to stop the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms and protect the long terms effectiveness of these life-saving medicines.

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Report | NJPIRG Citizen Lobby | Budget, Tax

Picking Up the Tab

Every year, corporations and wealthy individuals use complicated gimmicks to shift U.S. earnings to subsidiaries in offshore tax havens – countries with minimal or no taxes – in order to reduce their state and federal income tax liability by billions of dollars. Tax haven abusers benefit from America’s markets, public infrastructure, educated workforce, security and rule of law – all supported in one way or another by tax dollars – but they avoid paying for these benefits.

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Report | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Consumer Protection, Transportation

The Unfriendly Skies

This report analyzes these consumer complaints about U.S. air carriers for the five year period from 2009-2013, evaluates the effectiveness of new regulations and compares airlines’ performance.
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Report | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Budget

Following the Money 2014

This report, NJPIRG LPC’s fifth annual evaluation of state transparency websites, finds that states are making progress toward comprehensive, one-stop, one-click transparency and accountability for state government spending. Over the past year, new states have opened the books on public spending and several states have adopted new practices to further expand citizens’ access to critical spending information. Many states, however, still have a long way to go to provide taxpayers with the information they need to ensure that government is spending their money effectively.

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Report | NJPIRG Law & Policy Center | Public Health, Health Care

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Many consumers who buy their own health insurance face a big decision right now. Should you renew your existing plan, or switch to a new one?

It’s an especially important decision for consumers whose insurance company is giving them the option to stay in a “pre-ACA plan” – one that falls below minimum standards under the Affordable Care Act – for another year.

Here are our tips for consumers, and a checklist to help you make the decision that’s right for you:

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Blog Post

Congressional investigation concludes that Equifax breach was 'entirely preventable'

The worst data breach in history could have been prevented with some basic security measures.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Northeastern states band together to tackle transportation pollution

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

Mulvaney Lobs One Last Softball To Industry Opponents of CFPB | Ed Mierzwinski

As the year 2018 came to an end, U.S. PIRG, Americans for Financial Reform and AFR members filed the last in in a seemingly interminable series of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Requests for Information. Although there was no clear intent to this "Data Collection" RFI, we, and allied academic scholars who filed a separate comment, both inferred it as another opportunity for industry opponents of the CFPB to attack the Bureau's consumer protection mission -- this time by challenging its collection and use of data to evaluate and respond to financial marketplace problems that harm consumers. 

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Blog Post | Financial Reform

EU NGOs Blast Google Locational Data Collection as US Groups Blast FTC on Privacy | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, 7 member groups of the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) asked each of their national Data Protection Authorities to investigate Google Android's smartphone locational data collection practices following an investigative report by the Norwegian Consumer Council (Forbrukerrådet) finding that Google may be in violation of the new European GDPR privacy law. All the groups are members of the U.S. PIRG-backed TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue, which itself  followed up on the report and EU actions with a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Meanwhile, as the Senate prepared for an afternoon FTC oversight hearing today where Facebook may be a focus, we joined leading groups in a separate letter to complain to the FTC about its biased staff report that adopts unsubstantiated industry claims in defense of an FTC call to the administration for weak baseline privacy choices. 

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Blog Post

Walmart To Phase Out Paint Strippers Linked To Dozens Of Deaths

In the absence of government action on deadly paint strippers, retailers are stepping up to protect consumers.

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Blog Post

Drinking Water Shut Off In All Detroit Schools Due To Lead

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Blog Post

'This Infection is Resistant to Everything We Have'

Those are not words any patient wants to hear.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

1 Year After Equifax Data Breach, Here's Everything You Need To Know

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Report | NJPIRG Education Fund

Highway Boondoggles 5 finds nine new budget-eating highway projects slated to cost a total of $25 billion that will harm communities and the environment, while likely failing to achieve meaningful transportation goals

News Release | NJPIRG Education Fund

Highway projects are notorious for wasting taxpayer dollars. In the fifth edition of their Highway Boondoggles report, NJPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identify nine new wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to cost at least $25 billion collectively. Over five editions of the report, the groups have profiled 50 boondoggles.

News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

Composting all organic waste -- including food scraps and yard trimmings -- could eliminate nearly one-third of all materials sent to landfills and trash incinerators across the United States. That’s according to Composting in America, a new report released today by U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research and Policy Center and Frontier Group. The study outlines best practices for composting programs, which are critical for mitigating the negative impact of waste on the climate and public health.  

Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

America throws out immense amounts or trash, most of which is dumped into landfills or burned in trash incinerators. This is a costly system that damages the environment and harms our health. Luckily, communities across the country are turning toward a common-sense and beneficial solution: composting. Composting programs divert organic material – such as food scraps, leaves, branches, grass clippings and other biodegradable material – away from landfills and incinerators and turn it into a valuable product.

Blog Post

The media are reporting that efforts led by BigTech and BigPhone to push Congress to enact a self-serving umbrella privacy law on Capitol Hill are stalling. But that's only for now; they are still pushing hard. Pushback from legislators with stronger state laws is helping slow them down. So are the welcome efforts of civil rights colleagues to demand that digital and algorithmic decisions not discriminate. There's an important civil rights briefing later this afternoon on Capitol Hill. Learn more. 

Public Health | U.S. PIRG

Ban Roundup

As cancer victims hold Monsanto accountable in court, governors should act to ban Roundup unless and until it's proven safe.

 

Antibiotics | U.S. PIRG

Hold the Antibiotics Wendy’s

A recent estimate suggests that as many as 162,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections every year. We delivered a message to Wendy’s CEO and shareholders: Get antibiotics out of your beef supply chain.

 

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Volkswagen settlement scorecard

Volkswagen was caught cheating emissions laws and settled with federal authorities. The settlement included nearly $3 billion for the Environmental Mitigation Trust. How well does our state rank on plans for investing VW mitigation trust funds in clean transportation projects?

 

Budget | U.S. PIRG

Blueprint for tomorrow

Our report highlights which investments will alleviate the most dire problems America faces as a result of crumbling or outdated infrastructure.

 
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