Campaign Contributions Greasing the Wheels for New Highway Construction?

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Gary Kalman

Despite Crumbling Infrastructure, in 2008 Only About 10 Percent of Transportation Earmark Dollars Went to Repairs

U.S. PIRG Education Fund

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 – The nation has 73,000 crumbling bridges, but year after year startlingly few federal transportation dollars go to fixing them.

In 2008, for example, just a few months after the tragic Minneapolis bridge collapse which killed 13 and sparked alarm and outrage across the country, Congress directed only 74 of the 704 highway projects earmarked in the transportation appropriations bill to repair or maintain a bridge, tunnel, or overpass. 

In other words, only about one in ten of the projects, and about ten percent of the funding, focused on fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The majority of the $570 million went for new highways and other new construction.

Millions of dollars also flowed in another direction… from highway construction companies and the trade associations that represent them to the campaign coffers of elected officials in state capitols and in Washington, D.C.

Were those dollars “greasing the wheels” for highway expansion?

U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s new report, Greasing the Wheels: the Crossroads of Campaign Money and Transportation Policy looks at the 2008 transportation appropriations bill using data never before available, laying out the details of Congress’ earmark requests. The report, released on Thursday, also examines the campaign contributions from highway construction interests to both state and federal candidates.

“In our current campaign system elected officials must raise huge sums from major donors to win reelection,” said U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate Lisa Gilbert, one of the authors of the report.

“In part because of this, we believe that transportation spending is skewed toward road-widening and new highway projects favored by developers, road builders and the other interests who make those contributions,” she added.

“Deferring maintenance to build new capacity may seem senseless – much like a family with a leaky roof who instead builds a new addition – but it makes sense in Congress if money and politics favor those choices,” the report’s other author, U.S. PIRG Transportation Advocate John Krieger commented.

“We need to clean up our inherently monied campaign finance system. Only then can we hope to successfully fix America’s shaking transportation infrastructure,” Gilbert concluded.

Greasing the Wheels: the Crossroads of Campaign Money and Transportation Policy report is available on the U.S. PIRG website by clicking here.

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U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization.
 For more information on U.S. PIRG’s related campaigns: Transportation Solutions, Campaign Finance Reform or the Lobby Reform, follow these links.
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