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Ohio on the losing end of 'pet projects' game



Published: Wed, February 6, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Here's a recently revealed fact that should make the blood of every Ohioan boil: Despite having the fifth-largest population and 10th largest network of federally funded highways, the Buckeye State is at the bottom in project dollars as a percentage of population.

If that isn't sufficient reason to get angry, consider these startling statistics: Ohio's per capita allocation for "pet projects" in the federal highway budget was a measly $5.81, compared to $34.34 for Alabama, $81.93 for West Virginia and a whopping $178.45 for Alaska.

What going on? In a word, "favoritism."

The big winners in the sweepstakes, Alaska, West Virginia, Hawaii, Kentucky and Alabama, have one thing in common: members of Congress from those states served on the committees or the conference committee that crafted the final spending plan for the nation's transportation needs. But it's the way these members fiddled with the funding formula that is not only instructive, but warrants close scrutiny.

For the first time, Congress diverted highway money, which has long been distributed using a formula that takes into consideration a state's population and highway miles, for local pet projects. Thus, hundreds of millions of dollars in the $59.6 billion federal transportation bill is not going for highway needs, but rather for things such Seattle's Odyssey Maritime Museum in Washington State and downtown revitalization in Somerset, Ky.

Transit systems: While it is true that Ohio received $66 million for pet projects around the state, including airports and transit systems, there was a price to be paid: The state gave up $16 million in highway construction money. Given the poor condition many of the state's highways and byways, such a decrease is significant.

For those who would argue that the $66 million for pet projects isn't chicken feed, we would point out that Ohio's population is 11.35 million, while Alabama's population is 4.44 million. So why the huge discrepancy in per capita funding for pet projects? Alabama had one senator and two representatives on the committees that developed the transportation bill; Ohio had none.

It is evident that the method of allocating a large chunk of the federal highway dollars has less to do with need and more to do with politics. Even in Ohio, some of the "pet projects" raise eyebrows. For example, $800,000 was secured by the Port of Cleveland for a feasibility study of ferry service to Canada, while $1.25 million was earmarked for bridge replacement in the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.




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