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

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.” 

> Keep Reading

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

"Welcome to the 21st century, Austin." CapMetro chooses light rail, downtown tunnel

AUSTIN--Today, CapMetro’s plan for a generational investment in public transit for the city came out. The plan, the details of the long-awaited Project Connect vision map, include light rail recommendations for the two key high capacity corridors, one for the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor and one out to the airport, as well as an underground tunnel through the downtown business district. 

"Welcome to the 21st century, Austin. It’s absurd that one of the largest cities in America still lacks high capacity public transit, and that’s why I’m so excited CapMetro is submitting this transformational proposal. Project Connect will help us get around, improve our quality of life, and mitigate the worst aspects of climate change,” said Bay Scoggin, director of the advocacy organization TexPIRG Education Fund. “The best time to build transit was 20 years ago, but the second best time is right now.”

> Keep Reading
News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

TexPIRG Statement on I35 Expansion Boondoggle

On Wednesday, the Texas Transportation Commission came out with a plan to fully fund the proposed expansion of Interstate 35 through downtown Austin. The following can be attributed to Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund Director. 

“Time and again, we see Texas’ transportation priorities are headed in the wrong direction.For eight billion dollars, we could do far better than a project that won’t solve congestion, will increase our burden on the environment, and will exacerbate our reliance on cars.”

> Keep Reading
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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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Who Pays for the Road

Many Americans believe – erroneously – that the money they pay in gasoline taxes and other “user fees” covers the cost of building and maintaining our streets and highways. In fact, local roads and bridges are almost always paid for through local property taxes, while the share of the nation’s highway construction and repair bill paid by gas taxes has been dwindling over time. Since 2008, the federal government has diverted $52 billion in general tax revenue to the Highway Trust Fund – more than the nation has spent to subsidize Amtrak in its entire 42-year history.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

The Innovative Transportation Index

This report reviews the availability of 11 technology-enabled transportation services – including online ridesourcing, carsharing, ridesharing, taxi hailing, static and real-time transit information, multi-modal apps, and virtual transit ticketing – in 70 U.S. cities. It finds that residents of 19 cities, with a combined population of nearly 28 million people, have access to eight or more of these services, with other cities catching up rapidly.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Millennials in Motion

Millennials are less car-focused than older Americans and previous generations of young people, and their transportation behaviors continue to change in ways that reduce driving. Now is the time for the nation’s transportation policies to acknowledge, accommodate and support Millennials’ demands for a greater array of transportation choices.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles

Even though the Driving Boom is now over, state and federal governments continue to pour vast sums of money into the construction of new highways and expansion of old ones – at the expense of urgent needs such as road and bridge repairs, improvements in public transportation and other transportation priorities. Eleven proposed highway projects across the country – slated to cost at least $13 billion – exemplify the need for a fresh approach to transportation spending.

> Keep Reading
Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

A New Course

Universities and colleges across the country are taking steps to encourage their communities, students, faculty and staff to decrease their reliance on personal vehicles. These efforts are working well – saving money for universities, improving the quality of life in college towns, and giving today’s students experience in living life without depending on a personal car.

> Keep Reading

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Blog Post | Transportation

Nader's "Unsafe At Any Speed" 55th Anniversary! | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, on the 55th anniversary of Ralph Nader's landmark "Unsafe at Any Speed," about the built-in dangers of 1960s cars, as exemplified by the General Motors Corvair, his colleagues led by Joan Claybrook have published a new report: "Safer Vehicles and Highways: 4.2 million U.S. Lives Spared Since 1966." The report makes recommendations to President-elect Joe Biden about how to revitalize and strengthen the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which Claybrook ran during the Jimmy Carter administration.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Consumer Tips, COVID-19, Transportation

Riding a bus, subway or rideshare? Here’s a look at safety measures adopted to combat COVID-19 | Jacob van Cleef

From mask mandates to capacity limits, the largest public transit systems and ride share companies have new procedures

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

CAMPO approves $633 million funding diversion for highway boondoggle | Lauren Banister

On Monday, April 20th, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) voted to divert funding from approved mobility improvement projects to fill a $633 million funding gap in the I-35 reconstruction project.  Lauren Banister, TexPIRG Transportation Associate, offered testimony at the meeting.

> Keep Reading
Blog Post | Transportation

The cyclist’s dilemma: How safety, climate and air pollution collide on America’s roadways | Matt Casale

Walkers and bikers are getting killed at alarming rates -- at a time when we need this type of transportation more than ever. 

> Keep Reading
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.

> Keep Reading

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

 

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (CapMetro) board of directors approved a new contract on Wednesday to purchase 197 new electric buses over the next five years for Austin’s public fleets, one of the largest electric vehicle purchases ever made in the United States. 

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. 

Transportation

TexPIRG applauds Austin's commitment to a greener future

Austin recently made one of the largest purchases of electric vehicles in the United States after a plan to purchase 197 new buses was approved. TexPIRG applauds this next step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in the city of Austin.

 

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.

 
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