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

Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

High-Speed Rail: Public Private or Both?

Private sector companies are likely to play a major role in the construction of high-speed rail lines in the United States. Public-private partnerships – or “PPPs” – have come to play an important role in the construction of high-speed rail lines around the world.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Report Examines Whether High-Speed Rail Should Be Public, Private or Both

A first-of-its-kind report released today examines whether high-speed rail should be public, private or both. The research report released by TexPIRG examines the experience with public-private partnerships for high-speed rail in other countries.  In addition to outlining the promises and pitfalls, the report recommends ten principles to protect taxpayers and the public under private financing deals.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Fort Worth Weekly: Fire Sale

Over the last decade, the debacle of the Trans-Texas Corridor made the phrase “private toll roads” dangerous territory for any Texas politician. The plan to create massive toll-road corridors across the state, with foreign companies in charge and millions of acres of real estate at risk of being taken by eminent domain, drew furious grassroots opposition across the political spectrum. That backlash eventually killed the project — but not exactly with a stake through its heart. One bill now sitting on Gov. Rick Perry’s desk would authorize a slew of new privately operated toll roads across the state. Ironically, the “sunset” legislation was supposed to reform the Texas Department of Transportation, which got in hot water particularly because of the corridor proposal.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

New Report: Texas’ Seniors Will Face Poor Mobility Options

The first baby boomers turn 65 years old this year and seniors in Houston are in danger of being unable to get around. The largest generation in history, Boomers are also the most dependent on automobile travel. Yet by 2015, 68% of seniors ages 65 and older in the Houston area will live in communities with poor options for people who do not drive, according to a new report.

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Texas’ misplaced priorities: $350 million subsidy to private toll road benefiting ExxonMobil

As the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) hosts its final public hearings on its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), a broad coalition of groups including Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Citizens Transportation Coalition, Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), Independent Texans, Central Texas Republican Liberty Caucus, Texans for Accountable Government, Houston Tomorrow, and Sierra Club are protesting the agency’s misplaced priorities. TxDOT officials have made the Grand Parkway Segment E a statewide "priority" and are assigning $350 million of statewide discretionary funds toward the project.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Study of Private Roads Shows Signs for Caution

A major new report released today identifies problems in a national trend toward private toll roads. The study, Public Roads, Private Costs: The Facts About Toll Road Privatization and How to Protect the Public, examines 15 completed private road projects and 79 others that are proposed or underway.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

TexPIRG calls on TxDOT to slow down on stimulus spending

A diverse group of anti toll-road activists, environmentalists, and public transportation activists from across Texas converged at the State Capitol to demand that Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) halt a plan to approve $1.7 billion in new highways without providing proper public review. The groups call on TxDOT, which is poised to approve the stimulus funding at their meeting on Thursday, to slow down and make sure that these transportation dollars are spent wisely.

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

TexPIRG Calls on Governor Perry to Lead by Example as He Heads for NGA Meeting in Washington DC on Building a Sustainable Infrastructure

As Governor Perry prepares for the National Governors Association (NGA) Winter Meeting this weekend, TexPIRG today sent a letter calling on him to lead by example in creating jobs that fulfill those goals right here in Texas.

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Media Hit | Transportation

Dallas Morning News: Texas lawmakers to weigh private road deals against tax increases

 Two years ago, lawmakers went to war with Gov. Rick Perry over his push to privatize Texas toll roads, but their efforts to stop the idea largely failed. As they return Tuesday to launch the 2009 legislative session, lawmakers will be faced with a choice of either raising taxes – which both Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have called a bad idea – or giving private companies a greater role in paying for, and operating, a fast-expanding network of toll roads.The two-year moratorium on private road deals that passed in 2007 slowed but didn't kill Perry's plan to privatize toll roads. Construction on one project is set to begin soon in Austin, and private firms are readying bids in Dallas, Tarrant and other counties across Texas.

 

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

New Study: Red Flags in Texas’ Transportation Stimulus Wish List

A new study of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) wish list, recently submitted to Congress for funding under a new economic recovery package, suggests that Texas’ current project list would undermine efforts to repair and modernize our deteriorating infrastructure and reduce U.S. dependence on oil.

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Blog Post

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.”

Media Hit

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.”

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

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.”

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund

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.

News Release | TexPIRG

AUSTIN -- Sens. Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Tina Smith, Diane Feinstein and Catherine Cortez Masto introduced a bill Thursday aimed at helping local school districts transition to all-electric transportation. The bill sets up a federal grant program, authorizing $1 billion over five years for grants of up to $2 million per school district, to replace diesel school buses with electric school buses, invest in charging infrastructure, and support workforce development.

Over 25 million American children, and roughly 3 million Texas children, as well as thousands of school bus drivers, breathe polluted air on traditional diesel yellow school buses every day. Diesel pollution stunts the growth of kids’ lungs and worsens asthma symptoms, and has also been linked to poorer academic performance.

Bay Scoggin, the Director of the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), issued the following statement:

“Our kids shouldn’t have to breathe dirty, dangerous air just to get to school. As the negative health impacts of long-term exposure to diesel exhaust become clearer, the need to move to zero-emission school buses becomes more urgent. We applaud and endorse this proposal, because it will help protect the health of America’s children.

“Texas can look at this as a model and expand the Texas Clean School Bus Program, which currently has only $6.1 million, despite requests for funding exceeding $11.5 million. TexPIRG applauds the Legislature’s decision to draw down the balance of the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP), and we hope to see a sizable portion of those moneys directed to such a successful public health and clean air endeavor.”

“The possibility of these two programs working in conjunction is the commitment we need to clean up our air and address climate change. We have to electrify our transportation system as quickly as possible. And given that air pollution has disproportionate health effects on children, there is no better place to kickstart that transition than with school buses. The Clean School Bus Act will help school districts get the resources they need to ensure that every child has healthy air to breathe and a safe ride to school.”

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U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.

TexPIRG is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety or well-being.

Transportation | U.S. PIRG

Volkswagen settlement scorecard

Volkswagen was caught cheating emissions laws and settled with federal authorities. The settlement included nearly $3 billion for the Environmental Mitigation Trust. How well does our state rank on plans for investing VW mitigation trust funds in clean transportation projects?

 
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