House boosts pet projects in transportation bill

The House agreed Thursday to a massive manager's amendment to the bill reauthorizing federal highway and transit programs that redirects more than $1 billion in the bill to member-requested projects, including projects boosting Alaska's total to $444.3 million, well above the state's original $75.3 million, according to a review of the bill.

As with the committee-approved version, the manager's amendment was chockful of earmarks, adding 50 more highway projects and three transit projects, including $7 million to build a "Renaissance Square" in Rochester, N.Y., that would include a community college, intermodal center and performing arts center; $3.4 million for Boysville of Clinton, Mich., to purchase vans; $1 million to rehabilitate a historic depot and bus station in Jesup, Ga.; and $12 million for a highway in the Northern Mariana Islands.

The bill also includes two new projects worth a total of $100 million in the district of Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, making his home state of California one of the biggest winners in the bill's spending lottery.

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., the freshman conservative who incurred the wrath of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, by leading opposition to his original spending plan, also received the $14 million in highway project that House leaders and the White House forced Young to include in the amendment.

Certain states would benefit from the manager's amendment more than others -- for example, Young's home state of Alaska. Young increased his state's earmarked total by $369 million over the original bill as reported out of committee, including $319 million for construction of two Alaska bridges.

Combined with transit and other projects in the bill, Alaska's total funding over the life of the bill would put it behind only four other states -- California, Texas, New York and Illinois -- according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

A $3 million earmark in the original bill for the planning and design of a bridge joining the island of Gravina to the community of Ketchikan was expanded to include construction -- at an additional $197 million cost, bringing the total to $200 million.

Another Alaska bridge project -- $3 million for planning and design of the Knik Arm Bridge -- also expanded by $122 million to include construction. Other Alaskan projects in the managers' amendment include $25 million to "improve marine dry-dock and facilities" at Ketchikan and another $25 million for intermodal facility improvements at the Port of Anchorage.

Illinois -- the home state of House Speaker Dennis Hastert -- is another state that did well under the manager's amendment. The state saw highway project funding alone rise to $525.2 million, nearly $100 million more than under the base bill. Part of that increase was $88 million for construction of a bridge at Stearns Road in Kane County.

For its part, California would see its total highway funds increase to $1 billion.

All told, about $500 million was shifted into increases for members' projects already in the bill, while Young used an additional $500 million to fund new highway projects. The new transit projects take up $11.36 million, while Young increased a handful of existing earmarks by about $3.2 million.

In addition to the new member projects, Young also made a number of changes to the rest of the bill, including changing the name of one earmark in the bill from the "BMW/I-85" project that would have built a road to a car plant, to the "I-85/Brockman McClinon Interchange and Connections Project."

The bill would also require the Transportation Department to open the so-called "Arena Ramp" in Prince Georges County, Md., that serves, among other things, FedEx Field where the Washington Redskins play, and renames a tunnel project in Boston the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Tunnel.