Campaign Contributions Greasing the Wheels for New Highway Construction?

TexPIRG Education Fund

AUSTIN, 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.

Only about ten percent of the projects, and about ten percent of the funding, focused on fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Most 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 Texas and Washington, D.C.

Were those dollars “greasing the wheels” in our state and federal capitols?

TexPIRG’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, data that lays out the details of Congress’ earmark requests. The report, released on Thursday, November 12th also examines the campaign contributions from highway construction interests both here in Texas and nationally.

“In our current political system, elected officials must raise huge sums of campaign contributions from major donors to win reelection,” said TexPIRG Advocate Melissa Cubria.

“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.

“We need to clean up the campaign finance system so that lawmakers can focus on the needs of the public rather than their major donors,” she concluded.

“When our elected representatives are bought and paid for by road building interests, how can the citizens stand a chance? It’s no wonder why our politicians are so tone-deaf to the public outcry against enormously expensive, unwanted toll roads and privatization schemes that will break the backs of the middle class,” says Terri Hall, founder and Executive Director of Texans Uniting for Freedom and Reform (Texas TURF). “ It’s time to clean-up Texas politics, By exposing the link between the BIG MONEY and the types of road projects that get priority, the taxpayers can then hold their politicians accountable in the ONE way they can…at the ballot box.”