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Media Hit | Transportation

Houston’s $7 billion solution to gridlock is more highways

Like many American cities, Houston is encircled by rings of highways—nine major radial freeways, three ring freeways, and a 180-mile fourth outer ring on the way.

But Houston isn’t just encircled by roads, it’s symbolically, and literally, being choked by cars. It’s consistently ranked as a top city for traffic congestion, ninth-worst for ozone pollution according to the American Lung Association, and a tragic nexus for deaths from car crashes. The annual death toll, according to the Houston Chronicle, is equivalent to “three fully-loaded 737s crashing each year at Houston’s airports, killing all aboard.”

According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the solution is more roads, specifically, a multiyear, multibillion dollar project to widen and expand the city’s highway infrastructure in an attempt to ease persistent bottlenecks that clog downtown traffic.

 

This isn’t a small upgrade: in the name of accelerating commutes, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) will widen and rebuild nearly 25 miles of highways in the city’s downtown, expanding some to be as wide as the length of two football fields. In addition to years of construction, the “Texas-sized” expansion would displace four houses of worship, two schools, 168 homes, 1,067 multifamily units, and 331 businesses that account for just under 25,000 employees, impacting mostly people of color in low-income neighborhoods.

It would add more impermeable concrete and asphalt infrastructure, plus future maintenance costs, to a city that is still recovering from some of the worst floods in recent memory. Resilience is a serious concern post-Harvey, and as flood maps are updated as flood risks evolve, the addition of concrete to the landscape could make the next storm’s impact worse. Houstonians still recall how highways became channels of water that cut off neighborhoods from aid during the worst of the flooding.

To critics, the I-45 project, named after the main highway that will be impacted, is an urban renewal reboot, a modern version of the freeway expansion projects that wrecked neighborhoods and divided cities in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Why would more urban highways and lanes of traffic—especially at a time when many cities are actively removing or capping their highways—be a foregone conclusion in any effort to mitigate Houston’s serious congestion problem?

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Largest bank hack ever, of Capital One, exposes 100 million to identity theft

Everyone should assume that their social security number has been exposed between this breach and breaches of other major companies’ databases, such as Equifax’s. With that in mind, U.S. PIRG recommends all Americans should use their right by law to freeze their credit reports for free

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Equifax penalty is a “sweetheart deal” that leaves consumers at risk

Our response to Equifax paying a $650 million penalty for exposing the social security numbers of 148 million Americans to identity theft.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Electrify METRO Coalition Letter | Bay Scoggin

Dear Chair Patman,

We write you today to urge METRO to transition its buses to a clean, all-electric fleet.

We applaud the work METRO employees do every day, safely carrying thousands of people, including many who cannot or do not wish to drive, to work, school and more. METRO buses and light rail are playing a critical role in reducing traffic and air pollution. Furthermore, we appreciate the efforts METRO has taken to convert buses to hybrid technology, limit idling, and initiate an electric bus pilot program. 

However, most METRO buses are still powered by diesel—a dirty fossil fuel that gives off toxic emissions—endangering the health of the people who ride them and contributing to global warming. 

The good news is we have the technology to start building cleaner, healthier cities and neighborhoods. Dramatic declines in battery costs and improvements in performance, including expanded driving range, have made electric buses a viable alternative to diesel-powered and other fossil fuel buses. 

Replacing all of METRO’s diesel-powered transit buses with electric buses could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 43 million pounds each year. 

Electric buses can also be more affordable than fossil fuel buses in the long run, since they have 30 percent fewer parts, no exhaust systems, their braking systems last longer, and they don’t require oil changes or fossil fuels. Over the lifetime of the bus, an electric transit bus can avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating costs over an equivalent diesel or natural gas bus, from lower fuel and maintenance costs. 

We urge you to no longer purchase any more diesel buses. Putting new diesel buses on the road today will pollute our city for at least twelve more years. Instead, as buses are ready to be retired, please replace them with clean electric ones.

The Houston region is receiving $32 million from the Volkswagen Settlement funds, but that money is yet to be dispersed. This is a great opportunity for METRO to start transitioning to clean electric buses. 

 

We look forward to working with you to one day give all Houstonians the opportunity for a “whisper-quiet, green ride.”

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Media Hit | Transportation

Report lists I-45 rebuild project among nation’s biggest highway boondoggles

A massive remake of Interstate 45 from downtown Houston north to the Sam Houston Tollway that would be among the largest road projects in the region’s history also is one of the nation’s biggest highway boondoggles, according to an updated list released Tuesday.

The North Houston Highway Improvement Project — the umbrella term for the entire $7 billion-plus plan to remake Interstate 45 — is listed in the latest installment of unnecessary projects compiled by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group. Nine projects across the country made the 2019 list, the fifth annual report from the two groups that have argued for greater transit investment.

“We believe that to fix congestion problems we need to take cars off the road,” said Bay Scoggin, director of the TexPIRG Education Fund, a subset of the national group. “We could do far better investing $7 billion in public transit.”

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Media Hit | Tax

Enriquez, Visco: Tax deduction benefits BP in blast settlement

TexPIRG's recent editorial on corporate tax windfalls.

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Private Loans, Public Complaints

The current debt on private student loans in the United States is estimated at $165 billion. Here in Texas student borrowers carry an average of $22,000 in debt. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is collecting complaints on those private student loans.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

Texas Spending Transparency Rated Best in the Nation

March 26 – Texas received an “A” and bests all other states when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2013: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the fourth annual report of its kind by the TexPIRG Education Fund.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Survey Finds Dangerous Toys on Store Shelves

Dangerous or toxic toys can still be found on America’s store shelves, according to Texas Public Interest Research Group’s 27th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Budget, Food

Ag Subsidies Pay for 21 Twinkies per Taxpayer, But Only Half of an Apple Apiece

Federal subsidies for commodity crops are subsidizing junk food additives like high fructose corn syrup, enough to pay for 21 Twinkies per taxpayer every year, according to TexPIRG’s new report, Apples to Twinkies 2012. Meanwhile, limited subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables would buy one half of an apple per taxpayer.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

More than 125 medical professionals organized by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund sent a letter to McDonald’s Thursday urging the company to meet its 2018 commitment to reduce antibiotic use in its beef supply chain. The coalition delivered the letter at the start of World Antibiotic Awareness Week to stress the urgency of taking action to stop overusing our life-saving medicines in agriculture. Otherwise, the drugs may no longer heal sick people. 

News Release

Apple reversed its longstanding policy against selling spare parts, providing repair instructions, and making repair software tools available to customers.

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund

36th Annual Toy Safety Report: Counterfeit toys evade safety rules, endanger children

Blog Post

Even with the knowledge I’ve gained working as a consumer advocate for several years, getting my finances in order has been a work in progress. 

News Release | TexPIRG

Today the Texas Medical Association filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas to put a stop to newly proposed rules regarding implementation of the No Surprises Act. The No Surprises Act will go into effect January 1, 2022, and is lauded as a landmark consumer law to protect millions of Americans from most unfair surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers. These surprise bills come from balance billing -- when out-of-network medical professionals charge patients the difference between their fees and the maximum amount allowed by their insurance company. Studies show one in five patients are hit with a surprise medical bill after receiving care in a hospital or emergency room.

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