Thursday, March 17, 2005

Transportation Pork In Focus: Mattoon, Illinois

The federal transportation bill just passed by the US House of Representatives is of immense importance for metropolitan development. Municipalities and states use money earmarked in the bill (once/if it is passed into law) as matching funds for capital improvement and expansion projects.

Unfortunately, the equations for what constitutes an important transportation project are dictated primarily by each individual representative's self-interest in the absence of a cohesive national transportation policy.

Take the case of Mattoon, Illinois--a small town ( 18,291 pop.) with a declining population in the southern part of the state. Mattoon is represented by Republican Tim Johnson--who just happens to hold a seat on the Highways and Transit subcommittee and is trumpeting his ability to "bring home the bacon." The project in Mattoon entails a $1.6 million expenditure to renovate an Amtrak train station that receives serves four trains per day--for now. The irony, of course, is that the Republican administration's budget is calling for a cessation of funding for Amtrak which will essentially bankrupt the railway.

Thus we face the real possibility that the Mattoon station will be renovated and the train will no longer come--unless the state of Illinois increases its own subsidies to Amtrak. How's that for sensible transportation planning?

(Linked to Outside the Beltway)