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

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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Blog Post | Transportation

Communities Roaring for More TIGER Grants | Sean Doyle

Across the country, municipalities are looking for more transportation funding, particularly for public transportation. A recent poll from Politico magazine found that among mayors, aging and deteriorating transportation infrastructure was the most often cited concern. Enter TIGER grants.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

New House Transportation Bill Raises Serious Concerns

After many months of negotiation, today the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is sitting down to mark-up a new transportation authorization and funding bill, known as the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015

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Blog Post | Transportation

How Deadly are Your State’s Roads? | Sean Doyle

A new report by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows which states have the safest and most dangerous roads.  Here's how the states rank and what we can do about it.

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The Innovative Transportation Index

A new report from ConnPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group ranks American cities on how many new technology-enabled services and tools they have to meet transportation needs. It finds that Hartford ranks 61st  among the nation’s 70 largest cities.

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Media Hit | Transportation

The Day: Central College Express

Escalating gas prices make the idea of a refurbished, passenger-carrying Central Corridor Rail line all the more enticing. Its potential to boost economic growth could make it a winner.

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News Release | Transportation

Obama Budget Seeks Major Boost in Transportation Investment

HARTFORD - Statement by ConnPIRG's Federal Senior Tax and Budget Analyst, Phineas Baxandall, on the Obama administration’s FY 2012 transportation budget proposal, which includes a major increase in transportation funding and an $8 billion annual investment in high-speed rail. 

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News Release | Transportation

ConnPIRG, Hartford Students Praise Obama Administration for Kick-Starting High Speed Rail in Connecticut

Connecticut students are on board for bringing a stronger, faster rail system to the state, which will connect them to their hometowns, reduce congestion, oil use, and carbon emissions. While there is much still to be done, the Obama administration’s recent decision to award $40 million in high speed rail funds to Connecticut is the first step in making this a reality.

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Media Hit | Transportation

The Bristol Press: Report Maps Detours Taken by Highway User Fees

A common misperception is that road-building is paid for by user fees. However, the ConnPIRG. report, “Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding,” shows that gas taxes cover barely half the costs of building and maintaining roads in the state.

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News Release | Transportation

Myth Busted: Roads Not Covered By Gas Taxes

HARTFORD – Today the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (ConnPIRG) released a new report, Do Roads Pay for Themselves? Setting the Record Straight on Transportation Funding, that disproves the common misperception that road-building is paid for by user fees. The report shows that gas taxes cover barely half the costs of building and maintaining roads, a fraction which is likely to fall steadily.

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