The Campaign Spot

Cut the Lego Purchases First, Mr. President.

Here, let me help you with the sequestration, Mr. President.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is lamenting that his department will need to make drastic cuts that will immediately impact air traffic controllers and airport security lines. A quick perusal of Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn’s last annual Waste Report showcases a bunch of grant programs that could be cut or eliminated immediately to generate significant savings.

Let’s start at the Federal Highway Administration, and eliminate the National Scenic Byways Program entirely. Forever.

You’re asking, “the what?”

The National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) is authorized by 23 U.S.C. § 162, and has been reauthorized and continued through March 31, 2012. The NSBP recognizes roads having outstanding scenic, historic, cultural, natural, recreational, and archaeological qualities. NSBP funding supports projects that manage and protect these intrinsic qualities, interpret these qualities for visitors, and improve visitor facilities along byways.

In fiscal 2012, roughly $20,600,000 were available for grants.

How does that money get spent?

Thirty-thousand Lego pieces, paid for with a $3,700 National Scenic Byways grant, are being assembled to build a miniature replica of a historic downtown street in Martinsburg, West Virginia.The 18-footlong display will depict Queen Street as it likely appeared in the 1920s and ‘30s.1020 It is expected to be a permanent exhibit at the “for the kids, by George” Children’s Museum, which will showcase George Washington’s “adventures in the Eastern Panhandle” of West Virginia. The museum is primarily funded with a $290,000 National Scenic Byways grant awarded by the Federal Highway Administration.

Buy your own damn Legos.

Then there’s the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation program, which spent $9,762,116 in fiscal 2012. Of that amount, $650,000 was used to repair the Stevenson Road Covered Bridge in Greene County, Ohio, a bridge that is not actually connected to any roads or train tracks.

It’s time to stop providing federal grants for non-essential projects:

St. Louis is receiving more than $35 million in federal funds for “an old-fashioned style trolley system” that will run on a 2.2-mile line from the Missouri History Museum to the University City Library. The federal funds for the project include a $25 million Federal Transit Administration Urban Circulator grant, a $3.5 million New Markets Tax Credit, and $7.1 million in other federal transportation grants.

States and localities can’t come to Washington with the endless “crumbling roads and bridges” cry and then turn around and spend money on cute old-fashioned trolley systems.

Somehow $145,000 in U.S. Department of Transportation funds are being used for a sculpture garden in the town of Waterloo, Iowa, dedicated to former resident Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of 31st U.S. President Herbert Hoover.

Sculptures aren’t transportation. They don’t move.

It’s ridiculous for LaHood to complain about being asked to cut roughly 1.3 percent of his budget ($1 billion; the Obama administration requested $74 billion in its last budget request) when his department is funding nonsense like this.

Oh, and does the U.S. Department of Transportation really need a separate Undersecretary for Policy and an Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy?

Or did they really need to spend $2,810,246 sponsoring conferences last year?

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