Can you smell the bacon? Stimulus boondoggles abound
We've been following the ridiculous lists of projects pitched to state governments -- from bouncy houses that needed funding to increase teamwork education to endless studies to figure out what to do -- and we had hoped that only the truly necessary and virtuous projects would get through. Alas, government spending doesn't always work that way, and we've put together a list of funded project that sound a bit dubious to us.
1. Signs, signs, everywhere are signs
You would be hard-pressed to miss the road projects in New York State funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). At least, we hope so, since the signs alone have set the state back $2,000 apiece, or a total of $1 million according to ABC news. New Jersey has only just begun spending the $270 million it received from the stimulus package for projects. One of its first purchases: $12,000 for ARRA signs.
Despite the "strong recommendation" from the Federal Highway Administration that such signs be posted, a few states have demonstrated better judgment; Virginia, Florida and Texas are foregoing ARRA signs and putting that money to work building a better state. If they really wanted to properly credit the funding, perhaps the signs should read something like "Funded by loans from the nation of China."
2. The Turtle tunnel
Perhaps the most mocked stimulus project expenditure is Florida's plan to build a $3.4 million "turtle tunnel", a four-foot-high, mile-long retaining wall and culvert system along U.S. 27. A thousand to 2,000 turtles are killed there each year while trying to cross the road. Projected over a 20-year span, each turtle saved would come at a cost of $85 to $170.
According to Tallahassee.com, however, the tunnel will also provide safe passage for 62 species of mammals, amphibians, and other reptiles. When U.S. 27 was rebuilt in 1966, the bridge between Lake Jackson and Little Lake Jackson was replaced with an at-grade four lane, cutting off the customary commute route for the creatures living around the lakes. Earlier this decade, the state built an eco-passage serving the Paynes Prairie area in Alachua County, at a cost of $3.8 million.
3. A border crossing for nobody
A border crossing in Whitetail, Montana that averages fewer than two passenger cars a day and two to three trucks a month is slated to get $15 million in stimulus funds for upgrades. Yet this crossing isn't the only alternative for travel back and forth to Canada in this area; another crossing is just 10 miles west, yet another 21 miles east. Senator Jon Tester of Montana has been outspoken about the threat of terrorists entering the country through his state. Seems to me fewer crossing locations would be a good way to reduce that risk.
4. The gift of debt
The city of Perkins, Okla. accepted $1.5 million of stimulus money toward the $5.26 million price tag for its waste water treatment plant. Little did town officials realize that the additional restrictions that came with the federal money would balloon the cost of the project to $7.2 million. A little math shows that the $1.5 million of stimulus money cost the town $1.94 million. One more such gift and the town might have to declare bankruptcy.
5. An airport for Big John
The small airport near Johnstown, PA serves only three commercial flights with 20 passengers a day, all shuttling between there and Washington D.C.'s Dulles Airport. Why would the airport be in line for nearly $800,000 of stimulus funds? The total cost of the project over a decade is set at $200 million. Perhaps the full name of the airport will give a clue: the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport.
John Murtha, as you know, is a U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania. Having served since 1974, he has a great deal of power, including chairmanship of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. He also has a reputation for swapping earmarks for votes on House legislation. No wonder he has his own airport.
6. 10,000 people fail to appreciate stimulus checks
Few people alive failed to enjoy their recent stimulus check, money they could use however they wished. I spent mine on a Kindle. Unfortunately, as many as 10,000 dead people also were sent the $250 checks, and not one of them has expressed any appreciation at all. Social Security states that of the 52 million checks sent, 8,000-10,000 went to the mortality-challenged. I wonder how many ended up in the dead letter office?
7. Union, NY granted unrequested money to help homeless people it doesn't have
This one may have a happy ending. Originally, the town of Union, N.Y. was surprised to learn it had been awarded $580,000 to help deal with its homeless problem. The problem? It has virtually no homeless. Town officials proposed spending the money instead to help the town's senior citizens upgrade or replace their furnaces. The feds, in their wisdom, apparently don't think that's a worthy use, and will likely withdraw the money.
The lesson? When the government is handing out money, be creative. Perhaps the town could have convinced their elderly to abandon their homes and move into the street. Those people would then be homeless. The stimulus money could then have been spent installing new furnaces in their old homes so they could serve as homeless shelters for these people, each back in his own home.
8. Akron to spend $1.5 million on suicide prevention fence
Akron, Ohio's All-America Bridge, aka the Suicide Bridge, has been the site of 28 suicides in the past 12 years. The long four-lane bridge crosses the Little Cuyahoga River Valley. At it highest, it runs 150 feet above the riverbed, as well as the homes and roads within the valley. Therefor, unlike many famous leap sites, those who dive from this bridge don't land on rock or water; they land on the backyards, patios and playgrounds of a new, upscale housing development.
Among suicide bridges, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is far and away the most popular; over 1,200 people have dived from it. Yet no suicide fence has been erected, perhaps because victims end up in the ocean rather than little Suzy's swing set. For those determined to die by jumping, there are many other bridges in the Akron area that would serve the purpose as well. The I-271 bridge over the Cuyahoga River is easily twice the height of the All-America Bridge.
9. Bridge connecting two campuses of Microsoft headquarters
Microsoft, seemingly the only company in America who the government has not yet bailed out, has two campuses at its world headquarters in Redmond, Wash. The two are close, but separated by Highway 520, causing a great deal of congestion. The solution? A tree-lined 480-foot bridge over the highway to connect the two campuses. The cost? $35-40 million. Microsoft's share? $17.5 million. Stimulus funding? $11 million. I have to wonder who has more money; the federal government or Microsoft? I'll bet they don't name the connector the American Public Bridge.
10. $3 million to Tennant, Calif. for a new water facility; population 82
The town of Tennant, California is not far from Mt. Shasta near the Oregon border. It has a population of 82. Apparently a very thirsty 82, if one is to judge by the $3,000,000 allocated from ARRA funds by the California Department of Public Health for a district water system upgrade. The money will pay for a new well, storage tank and pump station -- at $35,585.54 a head.
Should we spend this much to bring the mountain to Mohammad? I wonder how much it would have cost to convince the residents to move to Macdoel, only 20 miles away? Perhaps they'd balk at moving to the big city, though. Macdoel's population is a whopping 140.
11. Standing firm with the firm
Finally, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter awarded $40,000 to the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, without taking competing bids. The Governor claims he was in urgent need of advice about how to handle the stimulus funds.
Coincidently(!), before becoming Governor, Ritter worked in the Denver office of...Hogan & Hartson. I suspect I know where they suggested he spend a hefty portion of the dough.