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2009 Transportation Bill

McCain & Coburn: Let’s Make Roads Safer — by Slashing Safety Money

A report released today [PDF] by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), timed to coincide with debate on a $7 billion highway trust fund fix, accuses their fellow lawmakers of "raiding" the fund for transportation "pet projects."

John_Mccain_bike.jpgSen. John McCain. Image: City-Data.com

What wasteful projects have drawn such scorn from the duo? Not the I-69 road in Indiana, where the governor told planners to bend federal rules while taking federal money.

Not I-66 in Kentucky, a road that has benefited from $90 million in Capitol largess despite being unlikely to ever reach "interstate" status.

No, McCain and Coburn are frustrated by road access improvements, bike paths, and pedestrian safety programs -- which get about 1 percent of federal aid despite an estimated 13 percent fatality rate for those who walk the nation's streets.

Citing a Government Accountability Office audit that found $78 billion in trust fund spending on non-road projects over the past five years, McCain and Coburn classify pedestrian safety as a way to "make roads more scenic," not safer.

"I don't mean to diminish safety, but do we really need to spend money on brochures...?" McCain asked in a Senate floor speech.

From the report's conclusion:

Are all of the projects being funded by the highway trust fund essential priorities?

If so, then motorists may be forced to sacrifice by paying higher taxes as some in Congress are proposing. If not, then members of Congress may be required to sacrifice by eliminating or postponing funding for projects that are not necessary or are unaffordable at this time.

Since raising taxes on gas has already won support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the director of the state DOTs' lobby group, one might expect McCain and Coburn to take a look at that option.

At the very least, perhaps the duo would examine "unaffordable" road projects as well.

Or maybe McCain could convince Coburn of the wisdom of using highway trust fund money to pay for inter-city passenger rail. After all, as the subscription-only CongressDaily reported, in February 2002, McCain once thought that was a great idea:

A provision in McCain's bill that would allow states to put their portion of highway trust fund money toward intercity passenger rail

is causing concern among road construction advocates, who said it mayset a precedent for using the fund for projects other than highways. ... An aide to McCain said theprovision was designed to give states flexibility to spend money ontheir greatest needs.

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