21st Century Transportation
Efficient public transportation systems like intercity rail and clean bus systems would make America’s transportation future better for everyone by reducing traffic congestion and pollution, and increasing our options for getting around.
Public transit, biking and walking for the future
Americans are increasingly looking for more and better options to get around — options like expanded public transit, better biking alternatives, walkable neighborhoods and high-performance intercity trains. But while our transportation preferences are changing, too often our transportation policies are stuck in the past.
Our work has helped to educate the public about the changing ways we get around and the need for policy reform to respond to and encourage further transformation. Our nation’s highway-focused transportation system leaves too many communities isolated from opportunity, creates too much pollution, causes health problems, and does a poor job of getting Americans where they want to go. While Americans increasingly want to live in communities with other ways to travel, our vision for a national transportation system is largely stuck in the 1950s. Instead of simply lurching from one funding crisis to the next, our nation needs to make smart choices that will prepare us for the 21st century. These include a forward-looking 21st century transportation system that serves more places, is more reliable, creates less pollution and reduces global warming emissions.
Some communities across the country are responding, implementing a vision for transportation that includes things like bridges designed for walkers, bikers, trains and streetcars, but not automobiles; bus stations that are also digital hot spots; smart traffic lights that communicate with cars, and other innovative solutions.
Through a series of well researched and eye opening reports, public outreach, and work with local coalitions and public officials, we've pushed for more forward-looking reforms. We’ve turned the tide against wasteful highway expansion boondoggles. We've encouraged Departments of Transportation to recognize and plan for a shift toward more balanced travel choices. We’ve demonstrated the enormous benefits that have been gained so far with reductions in the nation’s volume of driving. There’s much work ahead to promote new planning and policy approaches that accomplish these goals and TexPIRG Education Fund is hard at work already.
Check out our video showcasing our work to bring about better transportation options for America's future.
Despite boasting one of the most extensive highway systems of any city in the country, Houston is planning to spend $7 billion on the “North Houston Highway Improvement Project.” According to a new report from TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, the project would expand I-45 through the middle of Houston, displacing homes and dividing communities.
“The fundamental law of road congestion is that if you build it, they will come,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund director. “More highways means more cars, so policymakers are living in a ‘Field of Dreams’ if they think this project will reduce congestion.”
“To improve Houston’s transportation system, we have to reduce our reliance on cars and highways,” Scoggin continued. “This project does the opposite, doubling down on a car-centric system that will lead to more traffic, pollution and sprawl.”
America’s aging roads and bridges need fixing. Our car-dependent transportation system is dangerous, harms our communities, and is the nation’s leading source of global warming pollution. And more than ever before, it is clear that America needs to invest in giving people healthier, more sustainable transportation options.
Yet year after year, state and local governments propose billions of dollars’ worth of new and expanded highways that often do little to reduce congestion or address real transportation challenges, while diverting scarce funding from infrastructure repairs and key transportation priorities. Highway Boondoggles 5 finds nine new budget-eating highway projects slated to cost a total of $25 billion that will harm communities and the environment, while likely failing to achieve meaningful transportation goals.
Highway expansion costs transportation agencies billions of dollars, driving them further into debt, while failing to address our long-term transportation challenges.
· Highway expansions are expensive and saddle states with debt.
o In 2012, the latest year for which data is available, federal, state and local governments spent $27.2 billion on highway expansion projects – sucking money away from road repair, transit, and other local needs.
o From 2008 to 2015, the highway debt of state transportation agencies nearly doubled, from $111 billion to $217 billion.
o New roadway is expensive to maintain, and represents a lasting financial burden. The average lane mile costs $24,000 per year to keep in a state of good repair.
· Highway expansion doesn’t solve congestion.
o Expanding a highway sets off a chain reaction of societal decisions that ultimately lead the highway to become congested again – often in only a short time. Since 1980, the nation has added more than 800,000 lane-miles of highway – paving more than 1,500 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island – and yet congestion today is worse than it was in the early 1980s.
· Highway expansion damages the environment and our communities.
o Highway expansion fuels additional driving that contributes to climate change. In 2017, transportation was the nation’s number one source of global warming pollution.
o Highway expansion can also cause irreparable harm to communities – forcing the relocation of homes and businesses, widening “dead zones” alongside highways, severing street connections for pedestrians and cars, and reducing the city’s base of taxable property.
When it comes to clean transportation, Texas got a “D” for underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities, according to a new report card from U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center.
After Volkswagen was caught three years ago violating emissions standards in 590,000 cars marketed as “clean diesel,” the German automaker agreed to create an “Environmental Mitigation Trust” to be distributed across all 50 states (along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Texas got its grade because the funds were made available for dirty fuels like compressed fracked gas, with no extra decision criteria for zero emissions vehicles.
“The Volkswagen settlement gave Texas the opportunity to make huge strides in the essential transition to a cleaner and healthier electric transportation system,” Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director said. “It’s deeply disappointing that there’s a lot of good is coming out of how some states are spending this money -- but we are not going nearly far enough.”
Texas placed near the bottom of states overall. The report gave only 15 states a C or better for money-spending policies that increase access to electric vehicle charging and bolster electric school and transit bus fleets. Fourteen states, along with Puerto Rico, received a failing score.
Three years after candidates from both parties made infrastructure a key presidential campaign issue, it’s finally the long-awaited “infrastructure week.” Democratic congressional leaders and the White House announced two weeks ago that they would commit $2 trillion to the cause. But a new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group cautions that before allocating that money, our elected officials need to determine which investments will alleviate the most dire problems America faces as a result of crumbling or outdated infrastructure -- climate change, pollution and threats to public safety.
“Deciding how much to spend before deciding what to spend it on puts the cart before the horse,” said Andre Delattre, senior vice president for program at The Public Interest Network, which includes the three groups that wrote the report. “If Congress and the Trump administration avoid the temptation to spend indiscriminately and instead develop a bold new infrastructure vision, we have the opportunity to give our children and grandchildren a stronger, healthier and more sustainable future.”
INFRASTRUCTURE IS AT THE HEART of America’s greatest challenges. The infrastructure investments made by generations past have contributed to improved health and welfare, and to the nation’s unparalleled economic prosperity. But the infrastructure decisions of the past have also cast a long shadow, leaving America to deal with the burden of lead water pipes that jeopardize our children’s health, fossil fuel pipelines that contribute to global warming, and transportation and solid waste infrastructure that no longer serve today’s needs.
It is time for a bold, new vision for federal infrastructure policy – one that focuses attention on the 21st century’s toughest challenges, from ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans to addressing global warming, which threatens to change American life as we know it. The nation’s infrastructure policy is an opportunity to undertake the challenge of building a better world.
It is also time for a new approach to federal investment in infrastructure – one that’s less focused on creating ribbon-cutting opportunities and maximizing the number of jobs and is more attentive to getting the most benefit out of every dollar spent.
By focusing federal policy on unleashing high-value investments in critical areas – and resisting the temptation to spend resources on counterproductive boondoggle projects – the Trump administration and Congress can leave a lasting infrastructure legacy that will be remembered by future generations.
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