LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO
The historic Coffee Pot along the Lincoln Highway in Bedford PA has made the news as a possible waste of taxpayer money — but the story is unfounded. Here are a couple news reports.
A handful of Republican Senators really have a knack for rooting out waste in our transportation system — but only the kind of “waste” that is imaginary.
Contrary to claims by Senator John McCain, this giant coffee pot in central Pennsylvania received zero dollars from the Transportation Enhancements program. Despite their claims to fiscal responsibility, Senators Jim Coburn, John McCain and Rand Paul haven’t zeroed in on egregious transportation boondoggles like the $1.7 billion cloverleaf in Wisconsin or the $5.2 billion highway to nowhere outside Houston.
Nope. These “fiscal watchdogs” have taken aim at a $900 million program that provides the majority of the nation’s bike and pedestrian infrastructure. And they’ve used some wild and colorful examples to support their position. Senators Paul and McCain said the Transportation Enhancements program has been used to pay for — no kidding — a “turtle tunnel” and a giant roadside coffee pot.
But this weekend the Associated Press looked into these claims as part of their “Fact Check” feature and found the senators “exaggerated and misrepresented some projects” in their attack. Brent Hugh at the Missouri Bike and Pedestrian Federation breaks down how the AP report should inject some common sense back into the discussion:
The fact check is unusual — every supposedly horrible example of Transportation Enhancements spending is completely debunked. Each example turns out to be either grossly exaggerated or completely misleading. That’s not surprising, because Transportation Enhancements is the single largest source of funding for bicycle and pedestrian funding in the U.S. today, and those projects are important, popular, and much needed.
Also from the AP:
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., raised the issue last month when he temporarily blocked action on a transportation bill. He said he wanted to allow state transportation departments to use all their federal aid on basic needs such as roads, bridges and tunnels, instead of setting some aside for enhancements.
“We are not pouring asphalt, we are not laying concrete, we are not decreasing congestion, and we are not increasing safety,’’ Coburn complained. He produced a list of 39 projects that he said exemplify extravagance at a time when states don’t have enough money to repair structurally deficient bridges.
Coburn picked his examples from the more than 25,000 projects that have received money since Congress established the enhancement set-aside nearly two decades ago.
First on the list: the Lincoln Highway 200-Mile Roadside Museum in south-central Pennsylvania. It was described as receiving $300,000 in 2004 for signs, murals, colorful vintage gas pumps painted by local artists and refurbishing of a former roadside snack stand from 1927 that’s shaped like a giant coffee pot.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was apparently working from Coburn’s list two weeks ago when he offered an amendment to narrow the types of projects eligible for enhancement funds.
“Pennsylvania ranks first out of all states for deficient bridges. Yet it seems to be more important to furbish large roadside coffee pots,’’ McCain said.
But no transportation aid was spent on the coffee pot’s $100,000 restoration, said Olga Herbert, executive director of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor. The money was raised entirely from preservation and civic organizations and local supporters.
“We did not use any of this $300,000 award for anything to do with the coffee pot,’’ she said. “It’s interesting that nobody from Senator Coburn’s office called me about this.’’