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Mass Movement: No Rest Stops For The Wicked

Pork rolls on fat tires

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Even though our own Sen. Rick Santorum has busied himself in the past week comparing Democrats to Hitler and getting a big picture of himself in the New York Times Magazine, he's at least bringing home the bacon.

 

 

Likewise his co-statesman Sen. Arlen Specter, and all of our esteemed local representatives in Congress.

 

Good, right? That's what they're there for. Bring it on home, boys. And you too, Melissa.

 

Even as senators have been fighting over the filibuster, they've been feasting together on the new larded-up transportation funding bill, the Transportation Equity Act -- a Legacy for Users, which passed in separate House and Senate versions last week.

 

The House would shell out $284 billion over six years for highways, public transit, bridges and commemorative boondoggles such as a Packard museum in Ohio; the Senate would spend more, $295 billion. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania's share of the Senate bill would be about $9.6 billion, up about 15 percent from the last version of the bill, which expired in 2003.

 

In the midst of this, President George W. Bush -- the guy who cleaned out the treasury for tax cuts and then demanded war spending be off the books -- imagines himself a penny-pincher, and insists that he'll approve only $284 billion and not a penny more, threatening a veto.

 

If you've been wondering whether Bush is an ideologue, lay aside his administration's neo-con war plans: Look only to this blatant disregard for the bi-partisan love of ribbon cutting.

 

In this highway spending spree, how does transit fare? No better than usual. As tradition dictates, the mix is just 20 percent transit, 80 percent highways, which means that transit's share is just over $50 billion. 

 

Despite climbing gas prices and transit ridership, according to the American Public Transit Association, transit advocates are more or less resigned to their second-class status.

 

APTA asked for some $66 billion -- a lot less than they're getting -- but then released this happy non-statement: They are "extremely pleased that the Senate passed its version of the federal surface transportation bill by such an overwhelming majority today."

 

"Do you think it's enough for transit?" I asked APTA Communications Director Virginia Millar.

 

"We're extremely pleased," she repeated.

 

Even Port Authority director Paul Skoutelas avoided any talk of transit-highway rivalry. "It's not adequate," he replied, when asked, "but it's not even adequate on the highway side. I'd advocate greater investment in all surface transportation modes."

 

These huge federal bills are rarely the place for new visions. They're the place for old habits. In particular, they're where legislators like to earmark little morsels of pork for pet projects in their home districts. The House bill contains more than 4,000 earmarked projects, a record number that includes a Klondike gold rush for the current House transportation committee chair, Republican Don Young of Alaska. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan Washington watchdog group, Alaska leads the nation in per capita transit funding.

 

Back when Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Blair) ruled the committee, Pennsylvania was the recipient of similar largesse. But Western Pennsylvania still has a few little pork cutlets that even goody two-shoes liberals will like, such as $750,000 to complete gaps in the Pittsburgh Riverfront Trail Network, including the pedestrian portion of the Hot Metal Bridge.

 

Then there's those earmarks that only put a down payment on much more expensive projects, like the $1.5 million pre-committed to the Southern Beltway project, a toll-road through Pittsburgh's southern suburbs, which will no doubt suck down millions more dollars with it.

 

The only local earmark that Taxpayers for Common Sense identified for transit? A few measly clean-fuel buses for the Port Authority, at a cost of $500,000. Gee, thanks.

 

Skoutelas believes that, as usual when the state divvies up the money that hasn't been earmarked, the bill will still allow the Port Authority's North Shore Connector, East Busway Extension and general "east-west corridor" work to be done for local transit.

 

But we're not cruising in the HOV lane yet. With Bush threatening his veto - no doubt with his favorite word-of-the-day, "resolve" - the country's bus riders could get stuck in the slow lane.

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