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

Blog Post | Transportation

Don’t Believe the Hype – Millennials’ Transportation Habits Are Changing | Sean Doyle

Despite news stories claiming that Millennials are buying up cars at record rates, the reality is quite different. After adjusting previous studies to account for differences in the size of the generations measured, on a per-capita basis, Millennials are 29 percent less likely than members of Generation X to own a car.

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Blog Post | Transportation

All Americans Deserve Clean Air to Breathe, On Earth Day and Every Day | Sean Doyle

U.S. DOT asks if we should measure global warming pollution from transportation.

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News Release | U.S.PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Make VW Pay, Transportation

Framework for VW Settlement Announced

Statement by Mike Litt, Consumer Program Advocate at U.S. PIRG Education Fund, on todays announced VW settlement. For more details on what a strong settlement agreement ought to look like, please see the open letter that we released earlier this week with other consumer and environmental groups.

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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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Media Hit | Transportation

12 of America's Biggest Highway Boondoggles

Given that expanding highways at great public cost doesn’t improve rush-hour traffic, there are better ways to spend this money, argue report authors Jeff Inglis of Frontier Group and John C. Olivieri of U.S. PIRG. They identify a dozen road projects, costing $24 billion in all, that are “representative” of the problem.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | PennPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report Shows Pennsylvanians Are Driving Less

Pennsylvanians have cut their per-person driving miles by 10.4 percent since 2005, while the nation’s long term driving boom appears to have ended, according to a new report from PennPIRG. This decline is significantly higher than the national average of 6.87%. Pennsylvania is one of 9 states and the District of Columbia to have a double digit reduction in per-person driving miles.

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News Release | PennPIRG | Transportation

Transportation Bill is a Step Backwards

Statement by Phineas Baxandall, PennPIRG’s Senior Transportation Analyst, regarding the disappointing federal Transportation Bill as released from conference committee today.

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News Release | PennPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Youth Drive Less, Desire More Transportation Options

A new report released today by the PennPIRG Education Fund, in conjunction with U.S.PIRG, demonstrates that Americans have been driving less since the middle of last decade. The report, Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less and What it Means for Transportation Policy, shows that young people in particular are decreasing the amount they drive and increasing their use of transportation alternatives.

 

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News Release | PennPIRG | Transportation

House Proposal Threatens to Defund Public Transportation

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 2 – “The House Ways and Means Committee proposal to deprive transit of a dedicated funding source is a reckless move that would take America in exactly the wrong direction.

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News Release | PennPIRG | Transportation

Latest House Transportation Bill is a Step Backwards

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 1 – “America needs serious transportation reform. While the recent Senate transportation bill failed to move the ball forward on needed transportation reform, today’s House bill takes big strides in the wrong direction. And by funding future spending with revenue from increased oil drilling that won’t materialize for several years, it is clear that the House bill is just a political stunt.

 

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Transportation in Transition

A review of data from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration and Census Bureau for America’s 100 most populous urbanized areas – which are home to over half of the nation’s population – shows that the decline in per-capita driving has taken place in a wide variety of regions. From 2006 to 2011, the average number of miles driven per resident fell in almost three-quarters of America’s largest urbanized areas for which up-to-date and accurate data are available.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Way to Go

In a first-of-its-kind study, PennPIRG compiled nation-wide evidence on transportation apps and vehicle sharing programs, and found that these advanced new tools have made it easier for Americans to drive less. Real-time apps and on-board wi-fi for public transit, as well as carsharing, bikesharing and ridesharing have spread rapidly in recent years. The report examines new evidence on how these practices are changing travel behavior.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Moving Off The Road

After sixty years of almost constant increases in the annual number of miles Americans drive, since 2004 Americans have decreased their driving per-capita for eight years in a row. "Moving Off the Road" shines a new light on this trend and what it means for the future of transportation. 

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Direction

The time has come for America to hit the “reset” button on transportation policy—replacing the policy infrastructure of the Driving Boom years with a more efficient, flexible and nimble system that is better able to meet the transportation needs of the 21st century.

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Report | PennPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Transportation and the New Generation

From World War II until just a few years ago, the number of miles driven annually on America’s roads steadily increased. Then, at the turn of the century, something changed: Americans began driving less. By 2011, the average American was driving 6 percent fewer miles per year than in 2004.

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Blog Post | Transportation

All Americans Deserve Clean Air to Breathe, On Earth Day and Every Day | Sean Doyle

U.S. DOT asks if we should measure global warming pollution from transportation.

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

Red Light for Highway Boondoggles | Sean Doyle

Across the country, states are poised to spend billions of dollars on wasteful highway projects -- new construction and expansions -- exhausting limited funds that could be better spent on repair and maintenance or put toward critical investment in transit, biking, and pedestrian options that better meet current and future needs.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Pulling a FAST one on our Transportation Future | Sean Doyle

For the first time in a decade, and after roughly three dozen short-term extensions, Congress has pulled together and passed a transportation-funding law lasting longer than two years. There is only one problem: the new law is the wrong deal for the country.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Millennials Want More Public Transportation | Sean Doyle

A new poll shows that access to public transportation is “very important” for Millennials in considering where to live and where to work.  The results support our research over the past few years that found Millennials are driving less than older generations and are more prone to walk, bike, or take transit to get where they need to go.

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