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The Road To Nowhere

Written by Jeannette Di Louie, Assistant Editor

I can’t help but ask what exactly that highly-contested, much argued about, partisan-inducing $787 billion worth of so-called stimulus money go towards?

Today, we found out that the Obama administration is asking Congress for an additional $5 billion - and possibly as much as $7 billion - to shore up the trust fund delegated for highway construction. If lawmakers say no to the request, then the nation won’t have a highway construction fund as of August of this year.

And according to Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA - D), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today, in order to keep it running through Sept. 2010, it will need an additional $8 to $10 billion.

Now fair’s fair, and so we have to acknowledge that the trust fund went broke last fall under President Bush’s term. For the first time in the program’s history - and it dates back to 1956 - Congress had to approve an emergency transfer of $8 billion in treasury dollars to cover for an expected shortfall. And that was because people stopped driving quite so much, beginning the end of 2007 and carrying on through 2008 and into 2009. The fund is largely fueled by federal taxes on gasoline sales.

Law makers of both parties are coming up with brilliant ways to handle this - all of which involve higher taxes - but while they dither away down in Washington, I’d like to know why this happened in the first place. After all, wasn’t a significant chunk of that $787 billion stimulus bill supposed to go towards infrastructure repair and construction?

According to NPR, back in December, 2008, the then “President-elect Barack Obama said over the weekend that he would lead the biggest government infrastructure investment since the interstate highway system was launched in the 1950s.” And that was a pledge he stuck behind even after he took office.

So whatever happened to that money?

As experts such as Economist Alan Viard of the American Enterprise Institute pointed out late last year: “Even if you start these [infrastructure projects] right away, some of them are just very long-term projects, so very little of the spending is going to occur in the near term.”

But regardless of whether we’re seeing the affects of that stimulus money supposedly meant for our highways, roads and bridges, it should still be there. And out of $787 billion, don’t you think it should have been able to more than cover some $20 billion for the next two years?

You would think it would be, but apparently if you did, you would be wrong.

Jeannette Di Louie

Disclosure: No positions