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  • Transportation Enhancements: A Waste of Taxpayer Dollars

    The House passed today H.R. 2887, a bill to reauthorize expiring aviation and surface transportation programs for a few months.

    Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK) is expected to hold up the bill in the Senate because of something called Transportation Enhancements (TE) included in the legislation. TE is a program run by the Department of Transportation to force states to build bike paths, “highway beautification,” and transportation museums.

    In the past, federal funds have been used by states to build animal highways for salamanders, frogs, and turtles. And liberals say there is little waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government. In defense of the states, they are forced—as a condition of receiving money to build and repair actual highways for people—to spend about 10 percent of all federally received funds on such silly enhancement projects.

    Coburn is expected to offer legislation that would allow states to op out of the TE mandates that cost the taxpayer $928 million in fiscal year 2011. Coburn has documented some egregious examples of TE waste from past years:

    • Monkton, Vermont—$150,000 (2010): The Monkton 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. Thousands of blue- and yellow-spotted salamanders, frogs, and other amphibians spend the winter months in the rocky uplands near Monkton but must return to low-lying wetlands in order to reproduce. To travel between these two areas, the salamanders must cross the heavily traveled Monkton-Vergennes Road.
    • Lake Jackson, Florida—$3.4 million (2009): Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the other side of a stimulus project. The Florida Department of Transportation is planning to spend $3.4 million in stimulus cash for a wildlife crossing, otherwise known as an “eco-passage.” It will serve as an underground wildlife road-crossing for turtles and other animals that live in Lake Jackson, Florida. When a local columnist described this project to a friend, he said, “FSU [Florida State University] is talking about laying off 200 people and we’re protecting turtles?”

    The Department of Transportation forces states to divert money from highway projects to build bike paths, welcome centers, and archaeological planning. The 12 categories of projects include:

    • Pedestrian and bicycle facilities;
    • Pedestrian and bicycle safety and education activities;
    • Buying scenic or historic easements and sites;
    • Tourist and welcome centers; and
    • Landscaping and scenic beautification.

    If you see some beautiful plants while driving on your local highway, please make sure to enjoy the view, because you probably paid for those plants. Clearly, the TE program should be eliminated as a means to cut into the estimated $14.5 trillion in accumulated debt of our nation. At a minimum, politicians in Washington should cut programs for salamanders, frogs, and turtles to prove that they are capable of cutting wasteful government spending.

     

    Posted in Featured, Ongoing Priorities [slideshow_deploy]

    30 Responses to Transportation Enhancements: A Waste of Taxpayer Dollars

    1. Infrastructure needs to be repaired in this country, no doubt, but to spend money exclusively on highways is foolish as it does not serve the needs or wants of a large contingent of citizens. As the cost per user is much lower for cyclists and the maintenance schedule much reduced, we need mire of this sort of investment, not less.

    2. Bobbie says:

      total waste! government jumps anywhere that brings em money! they're corrupt! Discipline is necessary! Nature, like human life in America use to, FREELY takes care of itself! LET IT!!

    3. Alan says:

      Dear Brian,
      You say "Clearly, the TE program should be eliminated as a means to cut into the estimated $14.5 trillion in accumulated debt of our nation" but your list of categories funded by this program includes-
      "Pedestrian and bicycle facilities;
      Pedestrian and bicycle safety and education activities;"

      Given that 13% of traffic fatalities are pedestrians and cyclists and that no more than 2% of funding has ever gone in that direction, don't you think that bicycle and pedestrian facilities are already grossly under funded?

      I don't want to get into how much you value the lives of salamanders and turtles, but it seems clear to me that you do not hold a high value on the lives of people either.

      By the way, these programs result in jobs that cannot be outsourced, reduce dependence on foreign oil, reduce the trade deficit, reduce pollution, reduce congestion, etc.

      "Clearly" you have come to the wrong conclusion.

      • Graywolf says:

        Are the jobs mandated to be costly union jobs? If a town wants a bike path pay for it. Why should I living in the country pay for improvements to a city? They should pay us for the damage , physical and mental, done to us when they dump their dogs and cats off in the country where they starve, are killed by cars, or turn feral and kill our animals until we kill them.

    4. Zachary Levine says:

      Pedestrian and bicycle facilities are far from a waste of money. They promote physical fitness and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Shame!

    5. Jeff, Illinois says:

      Yeah . . instead we could give even more money to subsidize the oil industry even though they are making record profits . . What hypocrisy . . I would love it if our Republican Party actually played a positive role in goverment .. but alas Mitch McConnel, Eric Cantor and John Boehner spend all their time finding ways to obstruct the President and work full time to Only help him fail a re-election. They'll crash the economy if they can get the uninformed Faux News viewer to vote against their own interest and elect one of the idiot GOP candidates . . sold out to the Koch brothers or Grover Norquist .. . How American !!!

      • Steve says:

        Again…. you are not paying attention, Jeff. Sen Coburn's point is to NOT spend money, since we already have a spending problem, not give away more subsidies. And as for Rep. leaders being obstructionists, if the president continues to try to spend more money he doesn't have (see his last jobs bill speech), then we conservatives EXPECT them to stop Obama at every turn! And in case you haven't been paying attention (which is likely) more deficit spending by Obama will cause our economy to collapse all on it's own (see Greece for an example), without any help at all from the Rep. party. And if that happens, the american people will be so fed up they'll elect an empty juice can before they re-elect Obummer.

        • nathan says:

          the situation in greece has nothing in common with the situation here. WE ARE NOT GREECE!

          • Steve says:

            You mean Greece doesn't have a problem with deficit spending? They don't have a problem with their debt rating? They don't have a huge unemployment problem? They don't have a problem with financial solvency for their pension funds for unions, like the USPS does? Yeah, your right, we're not Greece…… at least not yet.

    6. Carol says:

      Oh, I see…it's better to create passages for creatures that don't know the passage exists and can't read, back loans for companies that can't become profitable, and build million dollar bridges that 12 people actually use than to invest in companies that are profitable and make products that PEOPLE actually use. I'm starting to see the light…

      • Bobbie says:

        it is humorous to suggest bridges, paths and walkways for animals. Animals adapt to human activity as we adapt to them and seasons. Both of us figure things out without government imposition!

        When America was free, we made bike trails that wasn't on private property. in low lands reaching to higher ones. up and down trails. It was great fun! yes we got hurt and scratched our knees but no one was looking for a need to share it with government! America is filed with what once had strength and endurance, now just a poor little country according to government leads, looking for something to feel sorry for! Making people brain dead to figure out how to live for themselves or what to do if it rains!!

        keeps the mind alert when the bike path is open to nature!! Government make for waste work! Where are all the mishaps to needlessly put this into production? I'm sure there are victims!!

    7. Joel D says:

      The necessity of a pedestrian or bicycle program can best be determined by the local government, and can also be financed by such. I don't see where the author or Sen. Coburn are denying the benefits of those things, just the funding source.

      • Alan says:

        Following that logic -the necessity of a Highway program can best be determined by the local government, and can also be financed by such. As you say it wouldn't deny the benefits of highways, just the funding source.

        I don't see Dr. Coburn asking to eliminate the Highway program. Perhaps you should straighten him out on that.

    8. Jeff says:

      Transportation enhancements help build bike lanes and trails, which help reduce congestions, pollution, and obesity, and give conservatives a fair choice of travel infrastructure, rather than having the government force them into cars by funneling all the social resources in to highways and neglecting social funding for other (better in my opinion) modes.

      Heritage and GM, hand in hand ensuring that cars are the only socially approved and funded transport method.

    9. Jay says:

      We really need to redouble our efforts and spending on bicycle and pedestrian safety and improvements. They are the 'other' modes of transportation and every much as worthy for spending my highway tax dollars. As we provide more accessibility for bicycle and pedestrian and transit for that matter we can move more people in a more efficient fashion. Come on republician party get your head out of your own shadow and realize we ARE going to have to raise taxes for transportation and all forms of mobility, safety, improvements, and congestion mitigation. Also remember that a construction job 'trickles down' at a rate of $2.50 for every $1.00 spent…..talk about a lot of JOBS. Please vote for the jobs bill now!

    10. Froggie says:

      You might have an argument here when it comes to easements and museums and such. But last time I checked, walking and bicycling were still two valid forms of transportation, so some federal funding for such is warranted. The argument that bicycle/pedestrian programs "can best be determined by the local government" can just as easly be applied to roads and streets as well.

    11. pragmatic says:

      Not for anything, but I wonder how many vehicle accidents occur because of people trying to avoid running over the salamanders, turtles and what have you? I'm sure most of us have seen people swerve and/or jam on the brakes to avoid a squirrel. Plus the costs of having various state highway personnel going out to clean up the carcasses. If you put a path in the place most likely to be used to cross, I'm sure the numbers will go down. That said, I do believe the right people to decide whether and where (and at what cost) these facilities are to be built are at the state/local level.

    12. Bobbie says:

      nuts is what you guys are. Bad government investment with good hard earned money!

      the cost of pedestrian and bike safety class isn't ever going to eliminate accidents. People learn on their own as they have before now, with their own intellect and their own discretion. Government bicycle coordinators making $80,000 salary!!! Outrageous cost for something people can live without!! People who are obese can figure out for themselves to improve their health if that's their choice or through family and friends. To be singled out and targeted publically by the government is pretty low! No force of government instruction at a cost, is necessary! Transportation enhancements can be lived without. Informed by those handling our money, government, gas tax is covering the costs of roads, highways, freeway construction. It goes hand in hand as the more people choosing other forms of transportation the less need for road construction so the cost is feasible if it isn't being corrupted.

      • Alan says:

        Wow! From what you say you must be against all forms of driver education because a "safety class isn't ever going to eliminate accidents" for motorists. I guess the same could be said for licensing and testing drivers. And while you are at it, you must be opposed to enforcing any traffic laws as they also are never "going to eliminate accidents."
        These issues are important and such stories are good opportunities for informing each other about them, so let's try for a higher level of discussion here.

        • Bobbie says:

          The talk is on the wastes mentioned! driver's ed is paid by student means or was. Driver's ed was a choice to get your license while a teen but not necessary as an adult. The driving test is very important especially when there are new people to the country that didn't use vehicle transportation in their country of origin. the traffic laws are enough for safety and must be enforced with no exception otherwise, people don't learn! some think they should get away with their violations because they're new to driving and some do, even when death results.

          I don't appreciate comments being taken out of context. You need to work on a higher level of focus on the issues and beyond what appears to you to need government involvement. grow up!

    13. Jim says:

      Might I suggest a bit of research before you opine? TE subsidizes "welcome centers" in part because federal law prohibits concessions on non-toll interstate highways, and people won't pay a few bucks to go to the bathroom. Where do you want people to "go"?

      The funding for bike facilities are reasonable and fair because bikes are prohibited from virtually all interstate highways. If you want to open the interstate highways up to bicycles on the shoulder or limit TE funding to the rights-of-way of federally funded highways, then you have a principaled argument. But states would quickly explain that actually, the trails are cheaper to build mile-by-mile elsewhere so why be inefficient.

      Perhaps you could move away from crony socialism and return to your free-market roots. Make every federally funded highway a toll road and scrap the grants for a revolving loan fund–then you would sound like a conservative.

    14. Crickey7 says:

      Your Foundation might have more credibiilty if it recognized and opposed the massive subsidy to drivers.

      It's "silly" to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize a mode of transportation with such pronounced negative externalities.

      • Jim says:

        Assuming that we don't want to get into assigning drivers the cost of every war we fight in the middle east, this is mainly a problem caused by the states. Does Heritage oppose market distorting subsidies at the state level or only the federal level?

        The gasoline tax govers about 10-20% of roads, because local roads are funded by income and property taxes, and the idea that the gas tax covers state roads is mainly an accounting fiction: Gas is exempt from state sales taxes which are almost as great as the gas tax. So a cyclist drinking a latte pays as much to the state as a driver buying a gallon of gas. Were heritage to blow the whistle on that huge subsidy, it would win accolades from many quarters. Or are you guys as brain dead these days as the Democrats?

    15. NEEDTHIRDPARTY says:

      Per Article I/Section 8 of the Constitution, the Congress is only authorized to "……establish (i.e. build/maintain) post Roads….."
      Now if a local government should wish to expend tax dollars on enhancement for wildlife; or wish to make a commitment to the funding of bike lanes; they would have the lawful right to do so.
      (Perhaps via a tax on bicycle transportation, similar to the fuel taxes paid by cars/trucks/etc.?)
      But these "transportation enhancements" do not -legally- fall within the mandate of the federal government.
      (Unless, of course we begin mail delivery via bicycle……. or salamander.)

    16. FedUpMan says:

      I'm from the Chicago area. Chicago and IL INVENT new ways to spend OPM (other peoples money) every single minute of every day. Is it asking to much when we are in debt $14.5 trillion to spend wisely. In IL we spend 95 cents of every gallon in gas tax to some govt. in the sky. We pay a 10% per gallon gas tax to the State. With almost 13 million people this is an huge amount of money that just disappears somewhere into some politicians realm to spend HIS way, not the right way but HIS way. Clout means everything in Illinois land, especially in Chicago, Cook county where friends of politicians get richer by the day while us peons get poorer.
      During a massive economic downturn to spend money we don't have and will have to borrow from China on turtles, salamanders, bicycle paths, museums, landscaping, billboard removal, and hiring of outside legal counsel it seems to any thinking person with a brain that these items can at least wait and maybe even cancelled during a time of financial calamity or even Armageddon some.
      If politicians don't get IT then the new bunch that replaces them will GET IT for them.

    17. Gretna Bear says:

      Sen Coburn's list, provided to reporters and posted on his Senate website, said Florida plans to spend $3.4 million on the project, but it will require $6 million more to finish "and it was unclear how long it will take to get the project built."
      Actually, the project was finished in September 2010 and came in under budget at $3 million, according to the Transportation Department.Coburn's list, provided to reporters and posted on his Senate website, said Florida plans to spend $3.4 million on the project, but it will require $6 million more to finish "and it was unclear how long it will take to get the project built."
      Actually, the project was finished in September 2010 and came in under budget at $3 million, according to the Transportation Department.

    18. Tionico says:

      Only a smal part of thie boondoggle money will ever make an iota of difference to any pedestriuan or cyclist. I am an AVID cyclist (about five thousand miles a year, on our highways), so I think I've got a good idea of what needs to be "improved" to make cycling safer and easier. Trust me, the vast majority of funds spent on "bicycle enhancements" does NOT make travel by this mode any safer or more convenient. Example.. in my own town, $1.2 Million spent on…. a narrow tunnel, a handy hideaout for thugs, to enable cyclists to get to the other side of a not very busy four lane urban street… already equipped with signals and pedestrian crosswalks a half block away. Meanwhile, thousands are spent to place rumble mounds and strips ON the shoulders if highways, removing the ONLY safe space for cycling. Most of these useless projects are rewarded to "good ol boy" firms, often in return for "favors" of various sorts, or merely for "past service".

      If the FedGOv really want to make a difference in cycling, how about requiring states to enable cycilng on longer routes between urban centers. Anyhone ever tried to travel by bicycle inn California? Particularly the Bay Area? HOW does one get across any of those trans-bay bridges (except for the Golden Gate, they are impossible….. though on most there is plenty of safe space.. its just "illegal".). Or, how about trying to get from Oregon down into the Central Valley on the I-5 corridor? Many areas blocked to bikes. So it goes….

      The Constitution gives NO authority to the FedGov for such spending. Time to stop it. Let local government take care of their local people, the model supported by our Federal Constitutioin.

    19. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      Let the private sector do it.

    20. Mark says:

      In Massachusetts, the Boston MPO uses landscaping enhancement funding to bribe cities and towns to replace shared vehicle lanes with bike only lanes, thus reducing overall mobility. Bike lanes and curb extensions are cosmetic expenditures that studies show do not reduce accidents. They only provide an illusion of greater safety. If cyclists want more facilities, come up with some funding like a user fee structure like what is done for motorists in the form of gas taxes and tolls. Otherwise, cyclists are just leaches and parasites.

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