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 | Transportation

Highway Administration Reinstates Clean Air Rule In Response to Lawsuit

In a victory for climate and clean air, the Federal Highway Administration responded to a lawsuit brought by U.S. PIRG, NRDC, and the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina by reinstating a federal requirement that state and local planners track and curb carbon pollution from cars and trucks on the national highways, which is a major contributor to climate change.

> Keep Reading
News Release | ConnPIRG | Transportation

I-84 Expansion in Danbury Makes National List of Highway Boondoggles, Wastes $715 Million in Taxpayer Dollars

A new report by the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (ConnPIRG) Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $10 billion. Making the list of national highway boondoggles is the proposed I-84 expansion in Danbury, expected to cost $715 million. This third iteration of the highway boondoggles report details how despite America’s mounting repair and maintenance backlog, and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, federal, state and local governments across the country, including Connecticut, continue to spend billions each year on expanding highways. The report disputes the claims used to justify these investments and argues that the projects are outright boondoggles.

> Keep Reading
Report | ConnPIRG | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 3

A new report by the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group (ConnPIRG) Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine of the most wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $10 billion. Making the list of national highway boondoggles is the proposed I-84 expansion in Danbury, expected to cost $715 million.

> Keep Reading
News Release | ConnPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

New Report Finds $51.6 Million in Volkswagen Settlement Funds Headed to Connecticut Could Help Accelerate All-electric Transportation Revolution

A new report from ConnPIRG Education Fund finds that $51.6 Million from the Volkswagen (VW) settlement is headed to Connecticut to help clean up the state’s transportation system and recommends using the funds to purchase electric vehicle fast charging stations for the state’s highways along with an aggressive expansion of all-electric transit buses to replace aging, dirty, diesel buses.

> Keep Reading
Report | ConnPIRG Education Fund | Make VW Pay, Transportation

From Deceit to Transformation

A new report from ConnPIRG Education Fund finds that $51.6 Million from the Volkswagen (VW) settlement is headed to Connecticut to help clean up the state’s transportation system and recommends using the funds to purchase electric vehicle fast charging stations for the state’s highways along with an aggressive expansion of all-electric transit buses to replace aging, dirty, diesel buses.

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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
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.

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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.

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News Release | ConnPIRG | Transportation

DOT Report on Infrastructure Needs Overstates Future Increases in Driving

For nine years in a row Americans have decreased their average driving miles. We haven’t seen an annual increase of even one percent in total vehicle miles since 2004. Yet, US DOT forecasts that total vehicle miles will increase between 1.36 percent to 1.85 percent each year through 2030. That doesn’t make sense.

> Keep Reading
News Release | ConnPIRG | Transportation

New Federal Highway Figures Reveal Ninth Consecutive Year of Americans Driving Less

New figures from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) show that the number of miles driven by Americans continues to stagnate, even amidst economic recovery.

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Report | ConnPIRG Education Fund | Higher Ed, Transportation

A New Course

Across America, colleges and universities are showing that efforts aimed at reducing driving deliver powerful benefits for students, staff and surrounding communities. Policymakers at all levels of government should be looking to the innovative examples of these campuses. Universities and college towns also provide useful models for expanding the range of transportation options available to Americans while addressing the transportation challenges facing our communities.

> Keep Reading
Report | ConnPIRG 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, including those in Connecticut.

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Report | ConnPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Way to Go

America is in the midst of a technological revolution … and a big shift in our transportation habits.  Early evidence suggests that new innovations in technology and social networking are beginning to change America’s transportation landscape. New transportation services are providing people with an abundance of new options, helping to overcome barriers to the use of non-driving forms of transportation, and shifting the economics behind individuals’ travel choices.

> Keep Reading
Report | ConnPIRG 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. Driving miles per person are down especially sharply among Millennials, America’s largest generation that will increasingly dominate national transportation trends.

> Keep Reading
Report | ConnPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Direction

The Driving Boom—a six decade-long period of steady increases in per-capita driving in the United States—is over.

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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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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

Transportation policy is health policy | Sean Doyle

While transportation is often just thought of as how we get from point A to point B, the way we choose to do so can have important consequences on our physical health, air quality, safety, the development of our cities, and how we interact within them.

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Report | ConnPIRG Education Fund

New governors are getting ready to take office in 20 states, from Florida to Alaska. As America’s newly elected governors prepare to take on their states’ biggest challenges, they should prioritize taking bold action on the greatest challenge of our time: climate change.

Blog Post

How is the Northeast taking on the largest source of planet-warming, climate-changing pollution?

Blog Post

The Trump administration is making some pretty outlandish claims to justify its roll back of the nation’s most effective program at fighting climate change. Asserting that stronger fuel economy standards make our roads less safe, the administration moved last week to weaken Obama-era clean car standards -- but their claims just aren’t true.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

Americans stand to breathe more polluted air as a result of a rollback announced today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed to roll back the “Clean Car” fuel economy standards, which, if left in place, would eliminate more than 2 billion metric tons of emissions.

News Release | ConnPIRG Education Fund

Highway projects are notorious for wasting taxpayer dollars. Now, a new report by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies nine wasteful highway expansion projects across the country, slated collectively to cost at least $30 billion.

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