Congress Reluctant to Shine Light on Transportation Earmarks

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is about to
unveil a massive bill that will re-authorize federal transportation
programs for the next six years. The bill will also include funding for
a large number of "earmarks," the congressional pet projects that can include everything from bike trails to Bridges to Nowhere.

Earmarks grew largely in the shadows until a series of pet project-related ethics scandals
rocked Washington earlier this decade, helping the Democrats take
control of Congress amid promises to make the process more transparent.
Still, the House transportation committee is taking a looser approach to earmark openness this year: instead of requiring members of Congress to pose their earmarks early, the panel is merely encouraging members of Congress to do so.

earl_b.jpgRep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) isn’t ashamed of his earmarks. (Photo: Washington Post)

So how can activists on the local level find out whether their local representative is backing big highways or light rail? The Sunlight Foundation,
a government watchdog group based in Washington, has pored over the
websites of all House members to see who followed the transportation
panel’s optional deadline.

Sadly, only 83 lawmakers are
letting the public see their transportation earmark requests, compared
with 321 who heeded the binding transparency rule followed by the House Appropriations Committee. (The House has 435 members in total, but some swear off earmarks entirely.)

Sunlight’s list of transportation earmarkers can be found here. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-leader of the Congressional Bicycle Caucus, has an impressive list of transit projects on his list. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is seeking more money for the Washington Metro’s planned Purple Line and to expand transit options for Southern Maryland.

On
the flip side, two Republican members of Congress are catching some
flak for their earmark requests. More on them after the jump…

Sunlight investigator Bill Allison spotted
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) requesting a hefty $83 million for Interstate 66
in his home district — which really should be renamed, because it’s
unlikely to ever extend out of Kentucky. When a road project already
has a website dedicated to its undoing, one suspects it’s not the best use of taxpayer dollars. 

bachmann.jpgRep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) (Photo: whorunsgov.com)

Perhaps
the biggest transportation earmark story so far, however, is
Minnesota’s proposal to expand its Northstar commuter rail line. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported
on Friday that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has declined to request
earmark funding for a longer Northstar line, casting doubt on the $150
million project’s future.

Bachmann’s office told the Star-Tribune that she held off
because the state DOT has yet to endorse the Northstar expansion. Yet
that delay was caused by the project’s inability to meet federal
cost-effectiveness standards that are long overdue for an update. Will
Bachmann come around? She’s already put in a call for five road and
bridge projects in her state.

Is your local representative on
Sunlight’s list? If so — whether their project is good, bad, or ugly
— let us know in the comments.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Meanwhile, sf.streetsblog.org actively shills for the far worse than useless San Francisco Central Subway to Nowhere pork project, which ONLY exists because Nancy “Porkmistress” Pelosi explicitly added language to the TEA reauthorization bill that explicitly excluded this dog, along with the nearly equally rancid BART to San Jose contractor welfare project, from normal, legal cost-effectiveness evaluation by FTA.

    You can’t have it both ways: Pork for evil Kentucky Republican and freeway bad! Pork in San Francisco for CIA Overlord Pelosi and Parsons Brinkerhoff good! Pick both, or neither.

  • theo

    Richard, I liked your ideas about the Transbay terminal, but you’re acting like a conservative troll here.

    Streetsblog’s evaluation of the Central Subway was evenhanded. Nearly everyone agrees the current proposal is not cost effective, but with an extension to North Beach and the North Waterfront, it will become essential to the city’s transit backbone. Caltrain to Chinatown is an important corridor.

    In the long run, I-66 isn’t going to be any better. It’s a highway from nowhere to nowhere.

    Bachmann is the most irrelevant member of an irrelevant party, and you can really only point and laugh. Democratic House members have requested the Northstar line, and it’s very likely to happen.

  • You would definitely see several folks here against the Central Subway. As bad as I think that is, I am far more distressed about the BART extension to San Jose.

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