I know I should quit “beating a dead-horse” but I can’t let some of these ridiculous “ideas” the US Secretary of Transportation comes up with – so he can give your money away – slide.
Back in August 2010 Senators Tom Coburn, and John McCain released a report entitled “Summer-time Blues” documenting the most “questionable” projects that were funded by the $862 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.
You may remember reading my post about it as well which I showed the waste of money the Department of Transportation gave away. Well, Senator Coburn has released yet another report for December 2010 showing the “100 most wasteful Government spending for 2010.” In it are some of the most harebrained ideas I have ever seen. And again, this post will focus on the wasteful spending that the DOT Secretary boast is helping to put Americans back to work.
But these projects that Senator Coburn pointed out are just simply a waste of taxpayers money. Something this country – with the shape the economy is in – doesn’t need. This country needs to really tighten its belt when it comes to spending. This country – as I have said before – needs two lists, a “wants list” and a “needs list” and put away the “wants list” and focus entirely on its “needs list.”
This first example of the kind of waste the USDOT is involved with doesn’t directly come from the USDOT. But since the announcement by the USDOT that they had joined up with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to support more “livable and sustainable” communities across the country – then it ties into this post.
The number at the beginning of each waste statements will coincide with the number in Senator Coburns report – so you can go and look it up for yourself. Trusty me I am good but I’m not that good – you just can’t make this stuff up.
2.) Sprucing Up Apartments Before They Are Torn Down -(Shreveport, LA) cost $1.5 Million to taxpayers.
The city of Shreveport, Louisiana misspent $1.5 million in stimulus funds on mold remediation for a housing complex it was considering for demolition according to a federal audit. To obtain the stimulus money, the city‘s housing authority promised the federal government it would spend the money on improving a number of low-income homes it managed. Those projects included a mere $100,000 for combating mold and mildew at an apartment complex named Wilkinson Terrace.
More than ten months after awarding the grant to Shreveport, officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development noticed the city had failed to spend most of the money. Under the rules of the stimulus, the money was to have been spent within one year. The agency reminded Shreveport that the funds needed to be put to work, or they would be rescinded.
In the span of a few weeks, Shreveport officials cut contracts worth over $1.5 million for mold remediation at Wilkinson Terrace – fifteen times what they told the feds they would spend, and much more than a site facing possible demolition likely deserved. As the HUD Inspector General noted in an audit of the troubled grant, ―”if the Authority‘s ultimate plan was to demolish the Wilkinson Terrace site in the next few years, the prudence of its decision. . . should be further questioned.” The audit concluded that Shreveport should return over $1.1 million in misspent federal funds.
13.) Big Subsidies, Little Airports – Atlanta, GA cost taxpayers $2.4 Million.
The cities of Macon and Athens, Georgia are both less than a 90-minute drive from Atlanta‘s Hartsfield-Jackson International airport. Despite this, the U.S. Department of Transportation subsidized 26 flights per week to and from each city at a clip of $464 per passenger for Macon and $135 for Athens. Passengers pay $39 each for a seat on the 50 minute flight. The payment are permitted under the federal government‘s Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which allows the Department of Transportation to subsidize otherwise unprofitable flights by carriers to and from rural communities far removed from
any – hub airports.
The local newspaper reports that the Macon averaged 10 passengers a day, while Athens averaged 12 EAS subsidized flights. By law, the Department of Transportation subsidies are capped at $200 for flights to airports less than 210 miles from a large or medium hub, which Atlanta is. The two routes also appear headed in different directions – while ridership to Athens route saw an increase in passengers in the past year, Macon experienced an 85 percent decline in ridership.
Robert Reichert, Mayor of Macon, in arguing for continued service, said simply that ―people like to be able to fly into their hometown. Aviation consultant Mike Boyd sees it very differently, – from Macon, you have service. It‘s called Hartsfield-Jackson. Georgia Skies, the carrier that has held the contract for the past two years, had a contract that expired on September 30, 2010. The Department of Transportation rejected all four bids for a new two-year contract as too costly, and there will be a second round of bidding in November.
15.) “Critter Crossing” – (Monkton, VT) $150,000
The Monkton, Vermont Conservation Commission received $150,000 in federal grant money to build a – critter crossing, to save the lives of thousands of migrating salamanders and other amphibians that would otherwise be slaughtered by vehicle traffic on a major roadway.
The crossings will be low culverts running beneath Monkton-Vergennes Road. Low retaining walls alongside the highway would corral migrating amphibians to the passages, which will have dirt floors and rocks large enough to hide them from predators. (We don‘t want to build a buffet for raccoons, noted a herpetologist involved in the project.)
Some have celebrated the project. The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals recognized the town‘s efforts with a – Compassionate Action Award. Others remain skeptical. “I certainly respect all species. However, I don‘t see the need to pay $150,000 for a salamander crossing,” read one email reportedly sent to the Burlington Vermont Free Press newspaper. “I realize there are a lot of other
stupid things my tax dollars go toward, but this one is near the top of the list.”
17.) City Builds Streetcar System on Same Route as Subway System -Atlanta, GA cost taxpayers $47.6 Million.
The City of Atlanta recently received $47.6 million in stimulus funding to construct a $72 million, 2.62-mile streetcar project in downtown Atlanta. The new street car will take passengers from Centennial Olympic Park to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. Luckily, if passengers do not want to ride on the streetcar, they can also take the existing Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), which covers the same area as the streetcar.
Similar projects haven‘t fared that well. A tourist trolley and MARTA bus-line covering the same route as the planned streetcars previously failed due to lack of use. Of course, all of these public transportation options ignore the fact the route is completely walkable. According to the City of Atlanta‘s Infrastructure
Report, however, Atlanta currently has a backlog of $79.4 million in needed sidewalk repairs.
MARTA announced this past summer that it will be cutting bus routes and train frequency, increasing train wait times up to five minutes. Even with proposed fixes, MARTA will still be operating at a deficit of $69 million for the year, just $3 million shy of the total cost of the streetcar project. MARTA will help run the streetcars.
Support for the streetcar system is mixed, with many Atlantans complaining that the addition of the streetcars will be costly, yet do nothing to ease Atlanta‘s growing traffic problem. In fact, of 40 mass transit projects rated by regional planners, the streetcar system ranked last in half the categories used to measure impact.
One Atlantan, who works by a designated stop for the streetcar, stated the project was “foolishness” because – it‘s not going to spur development, it‘s not going to spur anything…when there‘s this many people out of work, and that‘s how they‘re going to use our dollars “by funding the streetcars?” Another Atlantan believed the streetcar was too small of a solution stating – in terms of shuttling people from one neighborhood to another, in terms of where the jobs are in the big picture, I don‘t think that‘ll get us where we need to get to while MARTA‘s going broke. Experts acknowledge that the streetcar is a gamble and there is no way of knowing what ridership will be.
24.) Demolishing Abandoned Facilities at Non-Existent Lake – Lake Optima, Hooker, OK cost taxpayers $172, 110
When it was built by the Corps of Engineers, Optima Lake was heralded as a future oasis for residents of the Oklahoma Panhandle. Despite the construction of a large dam and related facilities, “no lake ever formed.” That has not stopped the Army Corps of Engineers, however, from announcing over $172,000 worth of property improvements for the “lake.”
In the 1960s, Optima Lake was built to improve the water supply of the Panhandle in Oklahoma and to provide flood protection. Despite the effort, it was never filled with water, making it all but useless to potential visitors and leading the federal government to abandon the project years ago. It remains today as a remote site visited by “few” and strewn with abandoned structures.
In early 2009, the Corps of Engineers set aside over a million dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to replace an existing guardrail at Optima Lake, arguing the funds were needed to bring its “lightly used road” up to full federal highway standards. The Corps of Engineers later halted the guardrail project – after taxpayers pointed out that stimulus money could be better spent somewhere other than at an “abandoned, non-existent lake.”
This past September, the Corps announced renewed plans for the lake, designating over $152,000 in stimulus funds to demolish – 148 campsites, 11 restrooms, 2 trailer dump stations, 1 chimney and the Overlook Building at Lake Optima. The Corps also spent another $19,500 on speed humps, signage, and
locked gates to close the road to the lake.
26.) Another Bridge to Nowhere – Hillsborough, NH cost taxpayers $150,045
Federal stimulus funds totaling $150,045 were paid to preserve and resurface an 1860 New Hampshire bridge that does not connect to any roads and ends in an eight-foot drop. The purpose of the project, which only generated 1.90 jobs, is to – better accommodate pedestrians and bicycles. However, some have questioned whether bicyclists will even use the bridge because it fails to connect to a street. “That bridge is not stimulating anybody. Is anybody on it? Is anybody fishing? Is anybody photographing it? No,” said a frustrated resident of a nearby town.
Some local residents wanted the money to go to more important transportation priorities. “I think that money could have been used to fix roads that people actually drive on instead of using our tax dollars to fix something no one actually uses,” stated another local resident.
29.) Bus Statue in America‟s Biggest Little City – Reno, NV cost taxpayers $224,000
A 40-foot long, 6.5 ton statue of a bus titled, “Jackson” on a pole, designed by Philadelphia artist Donald Lipski, will now greet passengers entering Reno‘s new Regional Transit Center. According to the Washoe
County Regional Transit Commission, public artwork like the bus that hangs 28 feet in the air and costs $224,000 is important because “integrating art helps build a sense of pride, ownership, and identity with the surrounding community.”
32.) Walk in the Stimulus Dog Park – Washington, D.C. cost taxpayers $90,825
The National Park Service (NPS) spent $90,825 in stimulus funds to upgrade Marion Park, a popular dog destination on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The money went to repainting the existing fence, sidewalk repair, and purchasing new benches and trash cans for the park. According to NPS, this canine-friendly park is – the perfect place to take the kids for a stroll to the playground, or enjoy a snack in the grass under any of many ornamental trees. Doggeek.com considers Marion Park a dog park and notes that it also offers “poop bags and water for canines.”
33.) “Excess” Stimulus Funds Buy Steel Tube Sculpture – Eugene, OR cost taxpayers $78,979
When a bridge project proved to be cheaper than expected, the city of Eugene, Oregon was faced with a question: would it have to give back nearly $100,000 in “excess” federal stimulus funds it received to build the span?
Instead, the city opted to tack on a last-minute public art installation to the bridge project. Roughly $80,000 in “excess” taxpayer funds later, the stimulus-funded bridge now boasts a series of long tubes that hold netting and jut from the ground. If you‘re wondering what it is, you‘re not alone. That‘s part of the attraction “what the hell is that thing?” remarked a member of Eugene‘s public art committee.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the agency responsible for the “excess” funds, interprets the project and believes in its merit. “Specifically, the sculpture represents the tradition of Native American net and weir fishing in the northwest region,” states the FHWA.
39.) Duplicate Shuttle Services For Federal Employees – Washington, D.C. Area cost taxpayers $4.2 Million
Government agencies spend millions of dollars every year shuttling Washington area federal employees on near-empty buses running along overlapping routes. A study by the General Services Administration (GSA) determined 85 different shuttle bus routes operate in the Washington, D.C. area, with a cost exceeding $18.5 million.
According to the Federal Times, – many of the bus routes overlap, yet buses will run mostly empty rather than pick up employees from neighboring agencies because there is little if any coordination between agencies. Specifically, the report identified 45 of 85 shuttle routes that could be either eliminated or consolidated into existing routes, which would save taxpayers at least $4.24 million
Agencies seem to be divided, with – some opposed to giving up their shuttle services and others open to the idea as a way to save resources. Some agencies have expressed – security concerns about having employees from multiple agencies riding on the same bus and making stops at multiple locations. A former federal employee commented that the system lacked oversight, and as a result, largely empty shuttles were allowed to continue running.
40.) Transportation Dollars Excavate Ship from War of 1812 – Upper Marlboro, MD cost taxpayers $385,000
As the nation approaches the 200 year commemoration of the War of 1812, archaeologists in Maryland are working to excavate a sunken ship that may date back to the war. Using nearly $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the researchers believe the ship may be the remains of the U.S.S.
Scorpion, which was tasked with defending Washington, D.C., but was sunk by the British.
According to the Washington Post, – the excavation is part of Maryland’s effort to create a tourism cash cow from the bicentennial of a war whose biggest claim to fame is inspiring “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The entire project may consume as much as $4 million total, but all of the funding has not yet been arranged. Questions have been raised, however, about why the state‘s transportation funding was used for this purpose even as Maryland has over 250 deficient bridges.
44.) Bus Company Gets Competitive Edge with New “Rocket Riders” – Minneapolis, MN cost taxpayers $2.85 Million
In the case of two bus companies providing shuttle service between Duluth and Minneapolis, one received nearly three million dollars to purchase new buses, the other did not. Jefferson Lines, a nationwide carrier, received a $2.85 million stimulus sub-award from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which it used to purchase several new “Rocket Rider” luxury buses equipped with ―Free Wi-Fi, satellite radio, movies, luxury seating and extra legroom. Other businesses have suffered as a result of the government grant enabling Jefferson to purchase the brand new, state-of-the-art buses.
In response, those businesses are starting to raise their voices. “When there‘s a market and they are competitors, it should be left to the market without government interference,” said Dave Clark, owner of Skyline Shuttle, which runs several buses on the same routes as Jefferson Lines. “They could have taken the risk themselves, but they relied on the taxpayer to take the risk.”
51.) “Free” Harvard Courses for Federal Workers – cost taxpayers $5 Million
All parents would love to be able to send their kids to a high-priced and prestigious university. Some may be shocked to learn roughly $5 million in federal funds goes to sending government employees to Harvard. Sending federal employees to a month-long Ivy League university leadership course costs
taxpayers more than $18,000, which is two times what the – average public university charges for tuition and fees. One federal employee that attended the leadership course said “that the – days were packed with sessions. And though they weren’t particularly difficult academically, the benefit was not in its academic rigor.”
55.) The Little Engine that Almost Didn’t: The Shay Engine No. 4 Goes from Scrap Metal to Museum Piece with Taxpayer Funds – White Pines, CA cost taxpayers $102,694
Over $100,000 in federal funds will pay to restore a locomotive, which operated during the 1920s and sat rusting in a scrap yard for decades under a mountain of old tires. The Sierra Nevada Logging Museum will use a Department of Transportation historical preservation grant to return the locomotive, Yosemite Lumber Co. Shay No. 4, to working condition so visitors can watch it hit top speeds of six or seven miles per hour.
The story of the Shay No. 4 begins in the 1920s. From roughly 1920 to 1943 the locomotive served
the essential purpose of hauling logs in the Stanislaus National Forest. When its original owner went bankrupt in 1943, the engine was sold for scrap to be melted down, potentially to aid in the war effort. The engine, however, became buried by a mountain of tires and forgotten. In fact, the engine was not discovered until the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the tire pile removed and the engine was found beneath it.
The engine was almost saved when the Nevada State Railroad Museum bought the engine, but the museum decided it was not needed and abandoned the engine in the desert. In 2004, the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum was looking for a working logging engine and bought the engine, which had been preserved by the dry desert air. Currently, the museum anticipates the restoration will be completed in 2011. Therefore, after 90 years of rusting under tires, escaping becoming scrap, and sitting in the desert
heat, the engine is finally being restored by over $100,000 in taxpayer funds.
59.) Pedestrian Bridge Built “Steps” from “Another” Pedestrian Bridge – Bothell, WA cost taxpayers $260,000
The Puget Sound Regional Council spent $260,000 building a pedestrian bridge across the North Creek, just 20 paces from an existing sidewalk crossing the river. Part of a larger $1.1 million stimulus grant to improve Bothell Trail, this project has been described by locals as -embarrassing, not needed, and not the best place. A city spokesperson emphasized that – we are a city of “rivers” and argued that the 12-foot wide bridge would be safer than that 5-foot sidewalk.
The money from this duplicate project should be put toward higher priority projects in the region. One example is the South Park Bridge that recently closed down in Bothell‘s low income neighborhood, which forces 20,000 vehicles a day to take the detour route. That project has been requesting aid from the Regional Council unsuccessfully for some time.
73.) Expensive Electric Buses Purchased for Third Richest County – Howard County, Maryland cost taxpayers $3.7 Million
Howard County, Maryland was recently named by Forbes as the third richest county in the nation, with a median household income over $101,000. Maybe that is why one local county official sees the $4.7 million price tag for three new electric buses as a bargain. The money will be used to purchase three ―first of its kind electric buses that can charge without being plugged in – the primary destination for the buses will be the local Columbia Mall.
The Federal Transit Administration is chipping in $3.7 million toward the total cost through its Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) Program. At nearly $1.56 million per bus, County Executive Ken Ulman counted the purchases as – another example of our commitment to saving the environment and saving money.
74.) Beachfront Promenade for Tourists – Pascagoula, MS cost taxpayers $500,000
Tourists visiting the beach in Pascagoula will soon have a ten-foot wide lit walking path, benches, and landscaping to enjoy, courtesy of the American taxpayer. The $4 million promenade project, which received $500,000 from the 2010 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill, will be
adjacent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers‘ ongoing $12 million beach expansion project. The effort is part of the city‘s plans to implement the – Complete Streets – initiative, aimed at – creating a more pedestrian and bike friendly – community.
76.) A Tree Grows In…Cracked Pavement: Transportation Enhancement Grants Used to Plant Flowers Instead of Repairing Highways – Department of Transportation cost taxpayers $571 Million
Funds originally intended to repair and maintain highways are being allocated to plant flowers and trees on the side of the road. Congress established the Highway Transportation Fund (HTF) – funded by the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax – to finance the maintenance and construction of the Interstate Highway System, but a portion of those funds are now being used for aesthetic purposes only.
While highways and bridges across the country are crumbling, the Government Accountability Office found that from 2004 to 2008, the Department of Transportation spent $850 million in Highway Transportation Funds on 2,772 landscaping and other scenic beautification projects. According to
the Department of Transportation, $571 million was obligated for these types of projects just last year. Presumably, the flowers growing on the side of the road will divert the drivers‘ attention from cracks and potholes in the pavement. Other projects intended to enhance the transportation experience and funded as – transportation enhancements – include museums, bike trails, and road-kill reduction projects.
Funded projects, however, do not always occur in the proximity of a highway. Some examples include excavating a ship in Maryland and $270,000 to renovate and operate a historical trolley as part of a museum‘s effort in Pennsylvania. These expenditures are made at the same time that the Highway Trust Fund is being drained and critical infrastructure continues to be in disrepair. In fact, the Obama administration said that as much as $17 billion in additional federal money is needed to maintain roads and bridges. Indeed, as a result of the recession, Americans are driving less or trading in gas guzzlers for fuel efficient cars, resulting in lower gasoline consumption and lower gasoline tax revenues.
As a result, the transportation infrastructure of many states is suffering. For example, in Texas highways are deteriorating as transportation funds are drying up. The Texas Department of Transportation forecast it would need $370 billion from 2011 to 2035 just to fund transportation projects designed to ease congestion and maintain commuter roads across the state.
The Texas gas tax stands at 20 cents per gallon, however, one local researcher does not believe that raising the tax is the answer since – “anytime anyone buys a new car, chances are it is more fuel
efficient. If you drive the same amount of miles and your fuel efficiency goes up, you are consuming less gasoline, and you are paying less gas tax. But the state still has to maintain the roads that you drive on. At a time when funds are scarce and states are desperate to repair highways, the federal government should place less emphasis on the view from the driver‘s seat and more attention on ensuring drivers arrive at destinations safely on well maintained highways.
84.) Public Housing Units Bleeding Energy and Cash – Housing and Urban Development cost taxpayers $1 Billion
The federal government could save as much as $1 billion per year if the Department of Housing and Urban
Development were to reform its low-income housing policies, according to an analysis by the National Consumer Law Center. In 2010, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spent more than $5 billion for assisted housing, but the analysis found a significant portion of those funds were
put to use paying utility costs for poorly insulated, energy guzzling public housing and subsidized rental units.
Unfortunately, HUD does not appear to be anywhere close to fully addressing the problem. The NCLC report noted, – HUD reported shaving off only $33 million of that multi-billion dollar bill, or 2/3 of 1 percent. Clearly, HUD can do better for the taxpayers.
89.) Stimulus Puts Goats to Work – Benewah County, ID cost taxpayers jobs and $4,950
Naaaaaa a good use of taxpayer dollars: part of an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project was
used to put goats to work. Unfortunately, human beings did not fare so well.
The Heyburn State Park rented 540 goats, at a price tag of $4,950, for – invasive weed management. The National Park Service (NPS) allocated over a million dollars to Benewah County to help control the weeds. Overall, the project employed roughly 527 more goats than human beings.
92.) Your Money Biking, Walking, and Talking Away – Chattanooga, TN cost taxpayers $36,000
The Federal Highway Administration spent $36,000 co-sponsoring the 2010 International Symposium on Bicycling and Walking, which occurred from September 13th through 17th. The conference featured a Pro Walk/Pro Bike® Networking Party and numerous bicycle and pedestrian related workshops, such
as – Tips and Strategies for Using Social Media. Another session taught attendees that – bicycle and pedestrian planning in Mexican cities such as Guadalajara, Leon, and Aguascalientes offer many lessons that are appropriate in cities around the US. Participants were also coached on strategies on getting more federal funding: – Attendees will learn how to apply for “federal” funds: what works, what doesn’t.
98.) 1920s Gas Station Transformed into Museum – Wytheville, VA cost taxpayers $77,000
The town of Wytheville, Virginia received $215,000 in federal transportation dollars to restore an 84-year-old service station and transform it into the – Great Lakes to Florida Transportation Museum. Officials plan on returning the station to its 1920s look, making part of the building a – hands-on discovery museum, – and providing other displays for adults. The authenticity of the museum will only go so far; the gas tanks at the service station were removed in 1955.
100.) City Gets Funding for “Slightly Different” Bike Signage – Portland, OR cost taxpayers $900,000
Why have one bike sign when you can have two? Portland, Oregon spent $900,000 in federal stimulus funds on a new bike signage project even though the city already has similar bike signs, which it plans to leave up. The new signs—which include arrows, distance, and travel times to key destinations – have a slightly different design than existing ones – according to a local biking website.
I apologize for the LONG post I could have just posted the link – but I wanted to draw attention to what the DOT specifically wasted money on – in projects they were directly involved with. I want to thank Senator Coburn for allowing me to post this waste by the USDOT.
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