In the wake of the 2007 collapse of Minnesota’s I-35 bridge, Washington policymakers vowed
a renewed focus on repairing the nation’s aging infrastructure. But
weeks after the fatal collapse, Congress approved a transportation
spending bill with 704 earmarked projects, at a total cost topping $570
million — and just 11 percent of those earmarks went towards bridge
repair, according to a new report released today.
The I-35 bridge collapse, above, killed 13 drivers. (Photo: America 2050)
report, produced by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG),
contrasts the low amounts lawmakers set aside for bridge repair with
the flood of campaign contributions sent their way by highway,
development, automobile, and construction groups.
the election cycle that reached its peak in 2008, the year that bridge
repairs accounted for 74 of Congress’ 704 transportation earmarks, U.S.
PIRG found that road-building interests steered $80.3 million to
The same highway-centric groups also
lavished $53.5 million in campaign cash on state elections, in which
the costs of securing a victory are often much lower, according to the
report. Road-building interests split their federal donations more
evenly, steering 47 percent to Democrats and 53 percent to Republicans,
compared with a 61-39 split in favor of the GOP in state elections.
The report (available here)
separates donations from "transportation" versus "construction" groups
but does not name which lobbying entities U.S. PIRG singled out for
analysis, making it difficult to directly connect specific donations to
But the authors’ conclusion "that
elected officials often overlook preventative maintenance projects,
especially when new capacity projects are encouraged by campaign
contributions" was bolstered by an Associated Press investigation
one year after the Minnesota collapse. That AP probe found that just 12
percent of the deficient bridges getting the most state-level traffic
had received any attention other than regular maintenance.
greatest need, for
almost every place, is investing in existing infrastructure," said Mark
Stout, who spent 25 years working on policy at the New Jersey DOT
before helping put together U.S. PIRG’s report.
earmark and each project has its own
story," he added, "but by and large, I think it’s safe to say that a
structurally deficient bridge is not going to rally around it a lot of
local elected officials and business interests that are
lobbying to make [repairs] happen. They sort of think that’s someone
else’s job or that
someone else is going to take care of it."