This Little Piggy Went to Congress

BudgetpiggyThe $286 billion Transportation Bill got itself signed into law by President Bush on Wednesday at Montgomery, Illinois.  The Caterpillar Tractor plant was the site, appropriately enough.

Pundits are already having a field-day pulling pork like a Cantonese chef.  But I really wonder if there’s another spending bill that serves the democratic need as well.  Government is about serving the needs of the electorate.  Pork-barrel politics are its purest and most direct reflection.

I looked at a few states and what they’re getting.  Illinois is my old stamping ground and it’s on the list for a few goodies, including

  • Chicago, Conrail Bike Path, $1,012,000
  • Chicago, Bike Racks and Lockers, $103,545
  • Various locations, Transit Commuter Parking, $2,003,200
  • Chicago, Downtown Pedway Signage, $80,000
  • DuPage, Salt Creek Greenway Bike Path, $437,061
  • Chicago, Lake Front Bikeway Improvements, $69,580
  • Chicago, CTA – Ravenswood Line/Montrose Station, $80,000

So, there’s seven projects in Chicago that total about $3.87 million and I wonder how else anyone hopes to get a bike path along the old Conrail lines or improvements in bike paths along Chicago’s wonderfully scenic lakefront or through DuPage County.

My daughter lives in Montana and it’s on the list for

  • Livingston, where my daughter lives, gets a RR Depot Restoration, $499,856
  • Bozeman, Milwaukee Road Rail Trail, $97,107
  • Billings, Downtown Bike Connector Program, $1,018,476
  • Bozeman, Historic School Restoration, $136,000
  • Kalispell, Trail Connection, $237,535
  • Missoula, Bicycle Commuter Network, $100,000

All of which are small-change projects, but they represent improvements in the infrastructure that citizens have lobbied their Senators and Representatives for because they saw the need.  They were heard in Washington.  That’s how people get re-elected and it’s the way things are supposed to work.

Not to hide the fact that Illinois also got a $14 million rehab of their Springfield train station (a mite fancier than Livingston’s) and Missoula, Montana got a million dollar pedestrian bridge. The Transportation Bill didn’t get to heroic proportions entirely by nickel and dime expenditures.

So, it’s $286 billion over five years.

But we’re down more than that so far in our Iraqi and Afghanistani adventures and not a bicycle-path to show for it. I don’t mean that for the cheap-shot it sounds, but only to put some perspective on our huge nation’s ongoing needs and the periodic requirement to meet them. There’s no great arbiter-in-the-sky to measure the needs of DuPage County and Livingston, Montana.  People have to do that, people who are represented by elected officials.  It’s a time-honored system and the best we can do in the place of a national town-hall meeting.

Road and bridge and landscape contractors will attend bid-openings in DuPage County and Livingston over those five years and see if the proposal they put together won the contract.  There’ll be a few under-the-table dealings and a little money wasted here and there, but for the most part Illinoisans and Montanans will be equitably served.  Some $55 billion a year will churn through the economies of cities and states and a lot of needed projects will get built.

Not all that bad a deal.

For more comments on Washington at work, see my personal web site.

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