Regional Government in Two-and-a-Half Acts

Most of the changes that the Department of Transportation proposed to the new Sakonnet Bridge project, last night, were centered on cost savings. The bridge will be starting closer to the water; parts of it will be built on back-filled land (rather than additional structural columns); the metal will be “weathered steel,” which acquires a consistent brown color over time (rust colored, but not splotchy or suggestive of decay), rather than stainless steel.
Now, it’s the job of local elected officials to fight for ideal circumstances for their constituents, and the disrepair of the current bridge, with its weight restrictions and shabby look, certainly cost the town in money, convenience, and aesthetics. Assurances ought to be sought that the bridge won’t (1) soon be in need of major repair or replacement and (2) look like a slap-dash affair.
It’s a bit much, though, to hear a largely (perhaps totally) Democrat town council, along with the state representatives in attendance, harangue a Dept. of Transportation representative over poor upkeep and cost saving efforts. Council VP Donald Bollin insisted, to DOT Deputy Engineer Kazem Farhoumand, that the old bridge should be repaired such that the weight limit could be lifted, and then the new bridge built “whatever the cost will be to get a bridge that will last.”
Not having researched the project extensively, I can only surmise that sufficient repairs to the old bridge would be such an extensive undertaking that simply replacing it is ultimately more efficient and cost effective. That some elected officials and citizens of the town gave scarcely lip service to the savings suggests that they don’t see the expense as their own. It’s “get as much as you can,” without a broader picture of the costs of that approach.
According to the Newport Daily News article about last night, the current projected cost of the project is around $180 million. If DOT’s federal funding breakdown (which I found under its Web site’s FAQ of “Where does the Rhode Island Department of Transportation get its funding?”) is the whole story, only about 13% will come from earmarked federal funds. Unless I’m missing something, that means that the rest of the funds are allocated under state control.
To broaden the picture, consider the state’s 2008 budget appropriations (PDF): Federal funds account for 73.4% of DOT’s entire budget. In other words, the state contributes very little to the department beyond what it procures from above. Transportation, altogether, accounts for just 5.4% of all state appropriations, while DOT’s share represents 13.7% of the state’s total federal funds. If the bridges are in disrepair, the blame lies with a state government that relies disproportionately on a higher layer of government to cover the costs.
For all of the fear that building the bridge more cheaply will harm the town, I didn’t hear any hint that the state legislators intended to take another look at the structural reasons that DOT’s maintenance record leaves much to be desired. I also didn’t hear any suggestion that the town would find money in its budget to cover discarded amenities.
As I wrote last night, such infrastructural items as roads and bridges ought to be a central responsibility of government, not a dependent investment based on whatever revenue can be drawn above and beyond internal resources. Anybody who’s upset at their lost glimpses of water or the brownish hue of the bridge ought to direct their ire at the people who’ve come up with a thousand better uses for our money, from enviable remuneration packages for public union employees to generous handouts to the state’s free-riders.

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Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

A TAIL OF CORRUPTION:
In the years following RISDIC and the resulting “cuts” to RIDOT’s budget, a decision was made to “save money” by giving short-shrift to maintenance of the Sakonnet River Bridge (besides, building on-ramps for the Providence Place Mall is much sexier, and much more politically lucrative for the Democrats who hand out the “prevailing wage” union labor construction contracts).
And let us not forget that the Democrat General Assembly siphons off the gas tax (which is supposed to pay for road maintenance and improvements) and dumps the money into the general fund from which it can go to “enviable remuneration packages for public union employees to generous handouts to the state’s free-riders.”
In the insurance industry there is a phrase – a “long tail.” This refers to an insured risk for a which claim may not be made until several years after the occurrence, but which would still be covered so payable by the insurance company.
But for the post-RISDIC budget and Democrat General Assembly’s gas tax diversions, the Sakonnet River Bridge could have been maintained properly and would be fine today (note the significantly older Mount Hope Bridge next door) … so the Democrat General Assembly’s corruption and pandering to the special interests is going to cost us $180 million.
So here we are fifteen years later, discovering that the Democrats RISDIC corruption has a “long tail” … $180 MILLION DOLLARS WORTH OF LONG TAIL!

chuckR
chuckR
13 years ago

Tom, diversion of gas tax receipts is not unique to Rhode Island. When the I35 bridge collapsed in Minnesota, the local journos and bloggers got on the stick and found out that less than half the gas tax went to highway maintenance/repair and construction. Among other things, they got their very own Toonerville Trolley light rail for $600 million (1 1/2 I35 bridge replacement cost). This 11 mile long light rail boondoggle goes from downtown Minneapolis, where few people live, to the Mall of America, patronized by suburbanites, and the airport. If you lie in Edina or Wayzata, for example, this light rail is useless and will remain so until a comprehensive light rail system is built. However, unlike RI, the Minnesotans actually have something to show for the money diverted – 11 miles of light rail, extensive bike’n’hike paths, etc. On the other hand, nobody has died on the Sakonnet bridge. Yet.

Bobby Oliveira
13 years ago

Dear ChuckR,
When does your side finally admit that tax breaks for anyone in a time of war, according to the President on Tuesday, we are at war, are a bad idea?

Tom W
Tom W
13 years ago

>>Tom, diversion of gas tax receipts is not unique to Rhode Island. When the I35 bridge collapsed in Minnesota, the local journos and bloggers got on the stick and found out that less than half the gas tax went to highway maintenance/repair and construction.
Gee, what a coincidence, Minnesota is a Democrat state too!
Though at least there the liberal / “progressive” wing of the Democrat Party seems to dominate – they are a misguided but honest and well-intentioned. (Think Humphrey; Wellstone and Mondale).
Here the union / corruption / “what’s in it for me” wing of the party is unquestionably dominant.
We all know the result of THAT.

Andrew
13 years ago

BobbyO,
ChuckR didn’t mention anything about tax rates. He discussed poor spending choices. You could fix the problems he described by keeping tax rates constant and canceling certain luxury spending programs.
When will your side admit a) that poor spending choices can cause taxes to be unnecessarily high and b) that high-taxes, in and of themselves, are not good things?

Greg
Greg
13 years ago

Why do I have to put up with Bobby’s drunken ravings on this site again? Don’t we have enough liberal gibberish from idiots like Ducky?

Bobby Oliveira
13 years ago

Dear Andrew,
I agree with you on both points. However, the fact is that the combination of an expensive war and non-targeted tax cuts for the rich at the same time has caused some really ugly choices.
I’ve supported the war. I always support targeted tax cuts. Take away the targets, try todo both simultanesously and you end up with approval ratings lower than Nixon.
Greg,
Democrat Governor in Kentucky, locally Jamestown stays Democrat, the PCC in Portsmouth loses across the board. Us drunks are having a real good time.

Monique
13 years ago

“You could fix the problems he described by keeping tax rates constant and canceling certain luxury spending programs.
… a) that poor spending choices can cause taxes to be unnecessarily high and b) that high-taxes, in and of themselves, are not good things?”
I’ll drink to that!

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