Friday, August 03, 2007

Pork Barrel Politics Kill

The dust from the Minneapolis I35W Bridge collapse had barely settled before politicians like Senate Majority Leader Reid started reflexively commenting on the nation's infrastructure:
We have all over the country crumbling infrastructure -- highways, bridges, dams -- and we really need to take a hard look at this.
If we accept Senator Reid's assertion of crumbling infrastructure, then one can only conclude that pork barrel politics that redirect $0.18 per gallon federal gasoline tax dollars (over $24 billion in 2004) away from maintenance are setting us up for death and destruction.

'Other bridge collapse disasters' lists recent incidences, some of which can be attributed to poor maintenance, including the 1987 Schoharie Creek Thruway Bridge in Amsterdam, N.Y that killed 10. An investigation of that tragedy found "Riprap protection, inspection and maintenance were inadequate.”

An analysis of just the Ohio earmarks in the earmarks in Section 1702 of H.R. 3 SAFETEA-LU Highway Bill showed that over $16 million in potential maintenance funds are being redirected to projects like:
  • Project 5 ($2.75 million for Renovate and expand National Packard Museum and adjacent historic Packard facilities)
  • Project 490 ($2 million for Intermodal Bikeway, Independence)
  • Project 746 ($2 million for Planning and construction of a bicycle trail adjacent to the I-90 and SR 615 Interchange in Lake County, OH)
  • Project 4637 ($1.8 million for Design and construct a Towpath Trail from southern Cuyahoga County through downtown Cleveland to Lake Erie. Cleveland, OH)
  • Project 874 ($1.6 million to Construct Ohio River Trail from Downtown Cincinnati, Ohio to Salem Road)
  • Project 2855 ($1.2 million to Design and Construct Riverwalk and adjacent facilities, Warren, Trumbull Co)
  • Project 3059 ($1.016 million to Construct Great Miami River Multi-Use Trail, Miami County, Ohio)
  • Project 1431 ($ 800,000 to Acquire land and construct Portage Bike and Hike Trail, Portage Co)
  • Project 1450 ($ 800,000 for Planning and construction on bike paths and trails as part of Phases III-VI in Ashtabula Metroparks Western Reserve Greenway).
  • Project 2873 ($640,000 Bicycle Paths for the Magic Mile in Willougby, OH)
  • Project 1008 ($600,000 Purchase High Speed Ferries for Black River Excursion Boat Service, Lorain)
  • Project 3626 ($560,000 Land acquisition for construction of pedestrian and bicycle trails at Mentor Marsh in Ohio)
  • Project 1769 ($400,000 Construction of bicycle trail extension in Geauga Park District in Chardon, OH)
  • Project 457 ($280,000 Construct Bike and Walking Path from West 210 St. to Metroparks Fairview Park)
  • Project 986 ($240,000 Construct Williamsburg, Ohio to Batavia, Ohio Hike, and Bike Trail)
Each state had their own set of earmarks which you can anlayze for yourself in this excel document.

Soon we will start hearing the call for more spending. That may be the case, but before we start throwing new tax dollars at maintenance, pork barrel waste should be eliminated and projects evaluated on their on merits within the spirit of the original purpose the tax revenue is being collected for.

Related: Local reporting: Some bridges in poor state



Blogger Jonathan said...

I would sort of disagree with the sentiment here. Using fuel or raod taxes to fund anything that diverts people from the roads (e.g. cycle routes) is clearly a good thing.
What I would say (from a liberal European point of view) is that the problem is really that taxes are too low. You need to encourage alternatives to road usage (cars and trucks, so bikes, public transport and rail) as well as ensure the existing infrastructure is suitable for what's left.

Thinking of EU equivalents to the projects you cite, I would commend any attempt to improve alternatives to roads. But you're not wrong to suggest not enough is being spent on the infrastructure for existing traffic.

August 3, 2007 at 5:51 PM  

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