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.

Reforming our broken transportation system

Changing Transportation: U.S. PIRG's series of reports on the dramatic changes underway in how Americans travel.

In the 20th century, Americans fell in love with the car. Driving a car became a rite of passage. Owning a car became a symbol of American freedom and mobility. And so we invested in a network of interstate highways that facilitated travel and connected the nation.

Now we're in a new century, with new challenges and new transportation needs. We still love our cars, but they remind us of our dependence on foreign oil. Americans want choices for getting to work, school, shopping and more. With gas prices up and lifestyles changing, Americans — especially the young — are driving less.

We need a transportation system that reflects and supports the way we want to travel now.

Consider:

For six decades, the number of miles driven by Americans was on the rise year after year after year. Since 2004, Americans reversed the trend and have been driving less. Meanwhile, public transportation ridership nationwide is hitting record highs. This trend is greatest among younger Americans — who will be the biggest users of infrastructure built today. Since the 1950s — despite knowing that buses and rail use far less energy and space — we have spent nine times more on highway projects than on public transportation. 

By reducing traffic and pollution and increasing our options for getting around, efficient public transportation systems like intercity rail and clean bus systems would make America’s transportation future better for everyone.

But America also needs to repair and maintain our current aging infrastructure. Nearly 70,000 of the nation’s bridges are classified as “structurally deficient.” Instead of building ever-wider roads that will only make America more dependent on oil, we need to be smart in how we invest in highways, and fix them first.

The good news is that the public is in many ways ahead of Congress in leading the way toward reform. Help us make sure government recognizes our need to invest in a 21st century transportation system.

Check out our video showcasing our work to bring about better transportation options for America's future.

Issue updates

News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Wisconsin Legislature Rebuffs Gov. Walker by Refusing Highway Mega-Expansion and Requiring Audit of Inaccurate Forecasts and Wasteful Projects

After weeks of debates that largely centered on the future of transportation spending in the state,  the Wisconsin state legislature last night passed a budget for the upcoming biennium. In a strong rebuke of Governor Scott Walker, the new budget does not give the go-ahead to the controversial expansion of Interstate 94.

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News Release | US PIRG | Transportation

Pope Francis Elevates Public Transportation in Fight vs. Global Warming

Last week, Pope Francis took the unusual step of releasing a 192-page letter, known as an Encyclical, to senior church officials. The Pope’s Encyclical calls for greater reliance on public transportation and criticizes over-reliance on driving as a prime cause of global warming pollution.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

U.S. PIRG Statement: Until Ways & Means Solves Transportation Funding, Stop Building New Highways

At tomorrow's Ways and Means hearing on funding for transportation, Chairman Ryan should declare a pause to federal funding of new highway lanes until Congress figures out a long-term fix to fund transportation. 

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News Release | US PIRG | Transportation

Highway Expansion Projects Stall Under Growing Scrutiny

As part of a pattern of costly highway expansion proposals stalling under increased scrutiny, a federal court in Wisconsin made history last week by forbidding the use of federal dollars to build a highway because no need had been demonstrated. The court put an abrupt halt to Governor Scott Walker’s plans to spend $146 million widening state Highway 23, holding the project ineligible for federal funding. The court cited inadequate evidence in state travel forecasts or recent traffic counts, adding doubt whether other highway expansion proposals around the country are really needed.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Congress Punts for 33rd Time in Six Years on Federal Transportation Spending, then Leaves Town

 With Congress having just passed another short-term transportation patch to extend current transportation law until the end of July, members left town on recess. The new patch marks the 33rd time in the last six years that Congress has relied upon a short-term extension of prior legislation for transportation funding, rather than find consensus on a long-term bill.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

New California Data Shows Alternatives to Driving Taking Hold

California's state travel survey confirms that the driving boom is over.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

DOT Report on Infrastructure Needs Overstates Future Increases in Driving

The new US Department of Transportation forecast of future driving doesn't make sense given current trends and other official forecasts. The result may be billions wasted for unneeded highway expansion and more neglect of bridge repair, public transit and biking.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | 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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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

University Campuses Are Transportation Trailblazers as Young People Lead Shift From Driving

How universities across America are at the forefront of finding new ways to meet the demands of Millennials for lifestyles with less driving.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Budget, Tax, Transportation

Obama Plan to Close Corporate Loopholes, Invest in Infrastructure Promising, but Lacks Critical Details

In his State of the Union Address tonight, President Obama called for closing corporate tax loopholes and investing in infrastructure. His plan is promising, but lacks critical details.

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Report | MASSPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Derailed By Debt

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) faces an uncertain financial future over the next five years. With debt service payments increasing, along with other costs, the MBTA will face sizable budget gaps forcing the Authority to choose among unhealthy options to close these structural deficits. These options primarily include: further dramatic fare increases, service reductions, or more borrowing.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Transportation

Road Privatization

Privatization of toll roads is a growing trend. During 2007, sixteen states had some privatized road project formally proposed or underway. Although offering a short-term infusion of cash, privatization of existing toll roads harms the long-term public interest. It relinquishes important public control over transportation policy while failing to deliver the value comparable to the tolls that the public will be forced to pay over the life of the deal.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Budget, Transportation

Finding Solutions to Fund Transit

The public need and demand for transit will grow sharply in the future and transportation funding must become better targeted to future needs. This paper explains why lawmakers should turn to new dedicated revenues to provide long-term solutions while increasing market efficiency and reducing social costs. Legislators should avoid short-term band aids from the general budget or one-time gimmicks such as road privatization.

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Report | TexPIRG | Budget, Transportation

Six Public Interest Principles for Considering Private Toll Roads in Texas

Plans for the state of Texas to sign concession deals for privately operated toll roads present a number of dangers for the public interest. Giving long-term control of our roads to a private operator and granting them future toll revenues is a huge commitment that should not be taken lightly. Regardless of whether a deal is with a public or private operator, no concession should be approved that fails to uphold any of six basic principles.

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