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 | ConnPIRG | Transportation

Hartford 61st Among 70 Major American Cities For High-Tech Transportation Options

The report compares cities based on the presence of these new technologies, including ride sourcing services like Uber and Lyft, car sharing services like Zipcar, bike share and ride sharing systems, apps for navigating public transit and hailing taxis, and virtual ticket purchasing, among others.

> Keep Reading
Report | ConnPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

The Innovative Transportation Index

This report reviews the availability of 11 technology-enabled transportation services – including online ridesourcing, carsharing, ridesharing, taxi hailing, static and real-time transit information, multi-modal apps, and virtual transit ticketing – in 70 U.S. cities. It finds that residents of 19 cities, with a combined population of nearly 28 million people, have access to eight or more of these services, with other cities catching up rapidly.

> Keep Reading
News Release | ConnPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report Shows Mounting Evidence of Millennials’ Shift Away from Driving

Our new report shows that the marked decrease in the average number of miles traveled by young Americans appears likely to continue, even as the economy improves, based on the consistency of Millennials’ surveyed preferences, a continued reduction of Millennials driving to work, and the continued decreases in per-capita driving among all Americans.

> Keep Reading
Report | ConnPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Millennials in Motion

Millennials are less car-focused than older Americans and previous generations of young people, and their transportation behaviors continue to change in ways that reduce driving. Now is the time for the nation’s transportation policies to acknowledge, accommodate and support Millennials’ demands for a greater array of transportation choices.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Less Driving On Campus

Over the past two decades, colleges and universities have increasingly taken steps to reduce driving.

> Keep Reading

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Media Hit | Transportation

Amtrak's Ambitious, High-Speed Rail Plan Includes Hartford

Amtrak officials have unveiled their vision for true high-speed service along the Northeast Corridor, a $117 billion plan that includes service to Hartford. The proposed new high-speed service between Washington and Boston, with trains that could travel at 220 miles per hour, would require its own dedicated tracks and a new route north of New York away from the congested seacoast, said Amtrak president Joseph Boardman.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Transportation

Students Lead High-Speed Rail Tour Across Connecticut

HARTFORD- While many students are spending their Spring Breaks in Cancun or Palm Beach or other exotic locations, a dedicated group of ConnPIRG students are using their Spring Break to build support for the High-Speed Rail service between New Haven to Springfield, here in Connecticut. More than ten students are traveling the high speed rail route to draw attention and build support for the proposal. Today the students made their last stop in at the Capitol Building in Hartford, where they were joined by Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan and State Representative David McCluskey.

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News Release | Transportation

New Data: Public Transportation Projects Create More Jobs Than Building Highways

HARTFORD – Stimulus money invested in public transportation projects created twice as many jobs as highway projects, according to a new report released today by ConnPIRG, in conjunction with the Center for Neighborhood Technology and Smart Growth America.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Will Stimulus Money Boost Mass Transit Plans?

Gov. M. Jodi Rell's spokespeople would like us all to believe that the state's "Recovery Working Group" is showing initiative by identifying shovel-ready projects before Connecticut receives stimulus funds from the federal government ("Money coming soon from stimulus," Feb. 19). States were asked to produce a list of shovel-ready projects more than a year ago; the notion that this reactive approach is progressive is absolutely absurd but unfortunately business as usual for the governor's office.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Stimulus Must Put Nation on Smart Track

President-elect Barack Obama recently proposed a massive federal infrastructure plan that he likens to the New Deal and Eisenhower's historic initiative to create the interstate highway system. At a time when roads and bridges across the country are crumbling and public transportation systems are scrambling to keep up with booming demand, Obama and others are right to recognize the need for investments that will improve our quality of life as well as create jobs. But it is crucially important how infrastructure money gets spent. 

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