Rep. Don Young (R-AK) is vying to become the new Huey Long. As head of the House transportation and infrastructure committee, he is in prime position to bring home massive, unnecessary infrastructure projects to his district. Huey Long, former
emperor governor of Louisiana, is justly famous for acquiring funds to build some spectacularly unnecessary bridges over the Mississippi above and below New Orleans.
Representative Young seems to be headed for the same achievement.
If Rep. Young succeeds, tiny Ketchikan, Alaska, a town with less than 8,000 residents (about 13,000 if the entire county is included) will receive hundreds of millions of federal dollars to build a bridge to Gravina Island
(population: 50). This bridge will be nearly as long as the Golden
Gate Bridge and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge.
Bridge would replace a 7-minute ferry ride from Ketchikan to Ketchikan Airport on Gravina Island. Project proponents tell the public that the bridge is a transportation necessity, though the ferry system adequately handles passenger traffic between the islands, including traffic to and from the airport.1 Some herald the project as the savior of Ketchikan because it will open up land on Pennock Island to residential development, despite the fact that Ketchikan's population has been shrinking.
Taxpayers for Common Sense have a great article here on how the whole earmark thing works. Here is just a taste:
By the time
this is over, Congress will have packed this with a record level of transportation pork. The political formula was simple: $14 million was the minimum for every district. Anybody who sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee can expect $40-60 million, and House
and committee leadership will get $90 million or more.
If you look at it on a per capita basis, the highest per capita earmark spending is ... in the home state of the committee chairman, Young (gee, what a weird coincidence):
In total dollars,
California is the biggest winner so far with nearly $1.4 billion in earmarks. Delaware receives the smallest share, with only $12
million. On a per capita basis, however, Alaska wins going away.
Based on the $722 million in earmarks for Alaska in the bill's current
version, $1,151 would be shipped north for every man, woman, and child in the state. Rep. Young's isn't done yet, however, and before this bill is law, Alaska's share of earmarks will likely increase
even more. Alaska did nearly as well last year; during the failed
attempt to pass a transportation bill, Rep. Young secured nearly
$600 million for Alaska, including $375 million for two bridge projects, Gravina Access project in Ketchikan and the Knik Arm Crossing in Anchorage.
Update: Via the Club for Growth, comes this related story of the $1.5 million bus stop in Anchorage.
Tom Wilson is faced with a problem many city administrators would envy: How to
spend $1.5 million on a bus stop.
Wilson, Anchorage's director of public transportation, has all that money for
a new and improved bus stop outside the Anchorage Museum of History and Art
thanks to Republican Sen. Ted Stevens (news,
record) "” fondly referred to by Alaskans as "Uncle Ted" for his prodigious
ability to secure federal dollars for his home state....
The bus stop there now is a simple steel-and-glass, three-sided enclosure.
Wilson wants better lighting and seating. He also likes the idea of heated
sidewalks that would remain free of snow and ice. And he thinks electronic signs
would be nice....
"We have a senator that gave us that money and I certainly won't want to
appear ungrateful," he said. At the same time, he does not want the public to
think the city is wasting the money. So "if it only takes us $500,000 to do it,
that's what we will spend."
That is still five to 50 times the typical cost of bus stop improvements in