21st Century Transportation

Efficient public transportation like intercity rail and clean bus systems make our transportation system better for everyone by reducing traffic congestion and pollution, and increasing our options for getting around.

Reforming our broken transportation system

Changing Transportation: TexPIRG's series of reports on the dramatic changes underway in how Americans want to get around.

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 we also know they harm the environment around us. Americans want choices for getting to work, school, shopping and more. As lifestyles change, Americans — especially the Millennial generation — are changing their driving and transportation preferences.

We need a transportation system that reflects this century.

Consider:

Public transportation ridership nationwide is hitting record highs. This trend is greatest among younger Americans — who will be the biggest users of the infrastructure we build 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.

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. 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.

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 its current aging infrastructure. Nearly 59,000 of the nation’s bridges are classified as “structurally deficient.” Instead of building newer and wider highways that will only make America more dependent on dirty fossil fuels, we need to be smart in how we invest in roads, 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 our decision makers recognize the 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

Blog Post | Transportation

Rethink and replace I-35 | Bay Scoggin

The Texas Department of Transportation is requesting public comment about their proposed expansion of Interestate 35 through downtown Austin. We don't think the project is a good idea; that's why we highlighted it in our annual Highway Boondoggle report. Here's what we had to say on the record to TxDOT about the plan. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Infrastructure must be a good deal for our health

A bipartisan group of senators met Tuesday afternoon to prepare for a vote planned Wednesday on a $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework that aims to boost federal investment in U.S. infrastructure, including billions for roads, clean water and power infrastructure, according to media reports. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Transportation

Statement: Infrastructure must be a good deal for our health

A bipartisan group of senators met Tuesday afternoon to prepare for a vote planned Wednesday on a $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework that aims to boost federal investment in U.S. infrastructure, including billions for roads, clean water and power infrastructure, according to media reports. 

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Houston METRO plans to purchase 20 new electric buses

The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) staff announced last week a proposal to transition their transit fleet to zero-emission vehicles. This announcement came as part of METRO’s new electric bus initiative, which will add 10 new zero-emission electric buses and 10 electric cutaway buses to their fleet starting in spring of next year.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

United States Department of Transportation puts another brake on Houston’s proposed I-45 expansion 

The United States Department of Transportation has reportedly told Texas transportation officials on Wednesday to stop eminent domain activities around a proposed multi-billion highway widening project that would cut through downtown Houston. Estimated at $7.5 billion, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) would widen I-45 in three sections, impacting more than 70 miles of interstate, worsen Houston’s already poor air pollution, and displace more than 1,000 residents, businesses, multiple houses of worship and schools. 

Bay Scoggin, executive director of TexPIRG, issued the following statement:

 

“As one of the nation's worst highway boondoggles, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project would bring nothing but more cars and dirtier air to a city already drowning in traffic and pollution. The federal government’s recognition that Texas has not done its due diligence on a project which, by TxDOT's own admission, would displace thousands of Houstonians, is a crucial next step in the years-long advocacy against the widening of I-45. Let’s take a different approach to fix our congestion problems by taking cars off the road and investing this $7 billion in public transit.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

United States Department of Transportation puts another brake on Houston’s proposed I-45 expansion 

The United States Department of Transportation has reportedly told Texas transportation officials on Wednesday to stop eminent domain activities around a proposed multi-billion highway widening project that would cut through downtown Houston. Estimated at $7.5 billion, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (NHHIP) would widen I-45 in three sections, impacting more than 70 miles of interstate, worsen Houston’s already poor air pollution, and displace more than 1,000 residents, businesses, multiple houses of worship and schools. 

Bay Scoggin, executive director of TexPIRG, issued the following statement:

 

“As one of the nation's worst highway boondoggles, the North Houston Highway Improvement Project would bring nothing but more cars and dirtier air to a city already drowning in traffic and pollution. The federal government’s recognition that Texas has not done its due diligence on a project which, by TxDOT's own admission, would displace thousands of Houstonians, is a crucial next step in the years-long advocacy against the widening of I-45. Let’s take a different approach to fix our congestion problems by taking cars off the road and investing this $7 billion in public transit.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

House resolution up in committee would transform Texas’ transportation infrastructure

The current transportation system in Texas has been designed, built and centered around the automobile, and it is a public health disaster. A resolution, HJR 109 (Walle), being heard in Tuesday’s House Transportation Committee, would propose a constitutional amendment asking voters to approve expansion of what TxDOT is allowed to do with gas tax revenues. Currently, administrators’ hands are tied, with just one use approved: more roads. Advocates say the expansion would dramatically reshape our state for cleaner and safer mobility. 

Pollution from cars, trucks and other vehicles cuts short an estimated 16,000 lives in Texas each year. Meanwhile, approximately 3,600 people die in vehicle crashes in Texas annually, while tens of thousands more are left severely injured. Yet each year, Americans drive more than 3.2 trillion miles – nearly 10,000 miles per person and more miles per capita than people almost anywhere else in the world. 

“Our current transportation system is wreaking havoc on our health and the health of our planet,” said TexPIRG State Director Bay Scoggin. “Decades of car-centered investment strategies have left us with inefficient and dangerous transportation infrastructure. This resolution is exactly the forward-thinking pro-public interest strategy we need to give Texans more and better options to get around.” 

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 5

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.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Blueprint for Tomorrow

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.

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Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

Paying for Electric Buses

Most of America’s school and transit buses run on diesel, a highly-polluting fuel, but there is a better option. All-electric buses are here, and they’re cleaner, healthier and save money for transit agencies, school districts and bus contractors to run in the long-term. Diesel is internationally recognized as a dangerous carcinogen, and diesel exhaust contributes to several respiratory illnesses, including asthma. Children are particularly susceptible to the negative health effects of diesel exhaust because their lungs are still developing.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 4

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Electric Buses

More than 60 percent of the transit buses run on diesel, while just 0.2 percent of buses are all-electric. Numerous studies have shown that inhaling diesel exhaust can cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions such as asthma. Diesel exhaust from buses poses a particular public health risk; buses primarily travel where there are lots of people, including in the more densely-crowded areas of cities, on the busiest roads, and near schools.

 

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Pages

Blog Post | Transportation

Rethink and replace I-35 | Bay Scoggin

The Texas Department of Transportation is requesting public comment about their proposed expansion of Interestate 35 through downtown Austin. We don't think the project is a good idea; that's why we highlighted it in our annual Highway Boondoggle report. Here's what we had to say on the record to TxDOT about the plan. 

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post | Transportation

Solving the vehicle pollution crisis will take 'a little bit from everybody'

The soot and smog spewed by cars and trucks affects all of us. And we all have a part to play in the solution.

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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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Blog Post | Solid Waste, Transportation

Before we spend $2 trillion, report recommends a 'Blueprint for Tomorrow'

For all of us who rely on our roads and public transit, and our water, sewage and power systems, the agreement reached by President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders in May to commit $2 trillion to infrastructure should be good news.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Make VW Pay, Transportation

Some states are spending funds from VW 'Dieselgate' settlement on diesel

When it comes to clean transportation, most U.S. states are underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities for violating emissions standards.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

Our 'Driving into Debt' report highlights the impact of risky auto loans and car ownership

Talk about a captive market: For most of us, it's next to impossible to work, shop or go to school without a car. Auto lenders are taking full advantage.

> Keep Reading

Pages

Blog Post

The Texas Department of Transportation is requesting public comment about their proposed expansion of Interestate 35 through downtown Austin. We don't think the project is a good idea; that's why we highlighted it in our annual Highway Boondoggle report. Here's what we had to say on the record to TxDOT about the plan. 

News Release | U.S. PIRG

A bipartisan group of senators met Tuesday afternoon to prepare for a vote planned Wednesday on a $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework that aims to boost federal investment in U.S. infrastructure, including billions for roads, clean water and power infrastructure, according to media reports. 

Transportation

Houston takes a major step toward a zero-emissions transit fleet with 20 new electric buses

Using public transportation to commute to work or to school shouldn't include a daily dose of toxic pollution. Houston is taking a major step toward solving that problem by proposing to add zero-emission and cutaway buses to its fleet.

 

Transportation

Wasteful North Houston I-45 highway expansion halted

Texans need better transportation options — not a costly and inefficient road expansion. That's why we applaud the U.S. Department of Transportation's decision to call on the North Houston Highway Improvement Project (which PIRG identified as one of the most wasteful highway expansions in the country back in 2019) to stop development.

 

Transportation

New resolution could transform Texas transportation

A Texas House resolution would enable Texans to vote to expand what the state's Department of Transportation is allowed to do with gas tax revenues. Expanding the targets for this money to include public transit, walking and biking infrastructure, and other transportation options would dramatically reshape the state for cleaner and safer mobility.

 

Transportation

In Austin, cleaner transit is on the horizon

In the November general elections, thanks in large part to TexPIRG’s advocacy and outreach, Austin passed Proposition A. The measure will fund the long-awaited Project Connect, which will bring two new, all-electric light rail lines, improvements to current express routes, and more. The plan is estimated to reduce carbon emissions in Austin's air by 43,000 tons annually.

 
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