Friday, August 03, 2007

The Political Reality of Highway Spending

The last major highway bill was passed in 2005.

From the Heritage Foundation in 2005:
"With the House proposing $370 billion against the Senate’s $318 billion, the President ultimately forced both sides to accept $284 billion as the upper limit on spending, and that number became a part of both bills. But while the President won on total spending, Congress apparently believed that its consolation prize was the right to waste the money on frivolous programs that provided little or no safety and mobility to the motorists whose taxes fund the program."

From CBS News in 2005:
Congress passed sweeping highway and mass transit legislation that will send $284 billion to the states to build and fix roads, create thousands of new jobs and — lawmakers hope — save lives and cut hours wasted in traffic jams.

The bill "will affect every American in some way," said Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt. "The impact of this bill will be felt for decades to come."

The bill is also stuffed with thousands of so-called "earmarks," projects big and small that influential members of Congress have put in to by-pass state highway department priorities and make a splash in their home districts.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, which lists 6,361 of these projects valued at $23 billion, and other watchdog groups say such projects are wasteful, handed out as political rewards.

From the Cato Institute in 2005: You may recall the highway bill that Congress passed in July. It was the biggest porkfest in history -- more than 13,000 individual projects awarded federal tax dollars in an orgy of logrolling and back-scratching.

Among the most notorious projects were two bridges in Alaska, dubbed the "bridges to nowhere." The bill included $223 million for a bridge linking Gravina Island to the town of Ketchikan in Alaska. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, federal taxpayers will eventually pay $315 million for this bridge. Here’s the deal: Ketchikan is a town of 8,000 people (13,000 in the whole county, and population is declining). Its airport is on the nearby Gravina Island. Right now you have to take a 7-minute ferry ride from the airport to the town. To save people that 7-minute ride, Alaska wants to build a $315 million bridge.

MP: Perhaps instead of building "bridges to nowhere," Congress should have paid more attention to existing bridges in need of repair?

Thanks to Larry Kudlow.


At 8/03/2007 11:44 AM, Anonymous bob wright said...

And these are the people who think themselves qualified to run the U.S. health care industry?

Even more scary: These are the people many U.S. citizens are clamoring to have the U.S. health care industry turned over to.


At 8/03/2007 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Gravina bridge story mis states the incentives. It ain't about a seven minute ferry ride for some poor, dumb peasants. A bridge to the island would open it up to development. The bridge is a payoff to the people who own the land. These are politically connected people, of course.

At 8/03/2007 2:32 PM, Blogger Alex said...

This is interesting:

The last major federal highway bill was passed in 2005, and featured 6,361 "special projects" aka earmarks.

147 of these went to Minnesota in the amount of $449 million (

-$354 million went to road and bridge projects
-$74 million went to public transit
-$48 million went to...trails?
-$19 million went to the University of Minnesota system
-1.9 million went to visitor centers
-$1.5 million went to "joint public works and facility" projects

Specifically, I-35 received funds for 6 projects in the Metro (Minn-St. Paul) DOT district in the amount of $27.2 million.

1. $800,000 for the design of an interchange with Main Street in Lino Lakes

2. $2.4 million for the design of an new interchange in Forest Lake

3. $5.6 million for the construction of ramps and a new bridge over I-35 in Chisago County

4. $7.6 million for Lake Street access to I-35 in Minneapolis

5. $5.8 million for I-35 East reconstruction from I-94 to Maryland Avenue in St. Paul

6. $5 million for I-35 East reconstruction from University Avenue to Maryland Avenue in St. Paul

It's definitely NOT a problem of the federal government not chipping in. It's a problem of the state, its politicians and its department of transportation wasting a more than generous federal handout on worthless crap that they should be paying for themselves (like trails, bus stations, the university system), and not using it on what it was originally intended for, interstate highways and bridges.

At 8/04/2007 7:53 AM, Anonymous Sudha Shenoy said...

"It's a problem of [Minnesota]state, its politicians and its department of transportation wasting a more than generous federal handout [....] and not using it on what it was originally intended for, interstate highways and bridges. "

So who will guard the guardians? The taxes have already been mulcted from the hapless taxpayer. How will they get value for money? Can they get value for money?

At 8/04/2007 8:34 AM, Blogger juandos said...

The Taxpayers League of Minnesota released its 2006 MINNESOTA PIGLET BOOK and there were some notable expenditures listed:

* The state bailout of the Minneapolis Teacher’s Retirement Fund, which puts state taxpayers on the hook for $972 million in unfunded liabilities;
* A new $776 million Twins Stadium to be paid for with a Hennepin County sales tax increase (approved by state legislators with no voter referendum)
* $97.5 million for the Northstar Commuter Rail line;
* $34 million in subsidies to ethanol producers that have seen a 300 percent increase in profits in the last year;
* $30 million for bear exhibits at the Minnesota and Como Zoos;
* $12 million to renovate the Shubert Theater in downtown Minneapolis;
* $1 million for a replica Vikings ship in Moorhead;
* $500,000 for a skating rink in Roseville;
* $310,000 for a Shakespeare festival in Winona; and
* $129,000 for state art grants for North Dakota museums and theaters.

The same taxpayers league notes that Minnesota politicos have a taste for expensive Taj Mahals

I personally can't help but wonder how much bridge repair/replacement some of the above dollars could've bought...

At 8/04/2007 4:27 PM, Blogger Joe Liberty said...

Like clockwork, the Democratic congressional delegation from Minnesota is already trying to blame President Bush for supposedly shortchanging the nation's infastructure.

It seems that not only Minnesota is awash in its own revenue that it spends on frivolous items as listed above, but when they do get a half a billion in federal transportation pork, its wasted on "high priority" nature trails.

At 8/05/2007 10:03 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Sudha Shenoy says: "So who will guard the guardians? The taxes have already been mulcted from the hapless taxpayer. How will they get value for money? Can they get value for money?"

I think the phrase is, "who will watch the watchers" and that's the job of the citizens and that job comes due everytime these clowns are up for election...

Then again maybe not... A state that seemingling taking pride in sending people like Paul Wellstone, Walter Mondale and Keith Ellison to Washington D.C. might just have a problem getting their collective heads around reality...

At 8/06/2007 7:31 PM, Blogger Joe Liberty said...

...not to mention James Oberstar, who took home over $13 million in pork just for nature trails for his sparsely populated northern Minnesota district, and then had the nerve to turn around and blame the federal government.


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