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The Road that Costs $5.32 Million per Mile

Saturday December 28th, 2013   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 1:26pm PST   •  

There are all sorts of gems in the 2013 Wastebook, Senator Tom Coburn’s annual compendium of the most wasteful spending originating in Washington D.C. Here’s one we couldn’t pass up sharing!

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood ended his tenure describing the state of America’s roads as “one big pothole.” LaHood blamed a lack of transportation funding for the deteriorating condition of U.S. roads and highways and unsafe bridges. The outgoing Secretary emphasized that the U.S. Department of Transportation needed a bold plan to fund transportation infrastructure.

Isn’t it nice when a lifelong politician or bureaucrat describes the full impact of all their years in office? If only he had an annual budget of $74 billion and been put in charge of spending it to improve the condition of the nation’s transportation infrastructure!

Then again, we can get a good idea of how far that kind of money that former DOT Secretary Ray LaHood would really have gone from the example cited in this year’s Wastebook:

So when a tiny Kansas town wanted to spruce up one block on its Main Street, one would naturally assume that this town would use local funds, not federal dollars, for improvements that would be an exclusive benefit to the town.

Instead, the Kansas town of Rossville received $532,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C. because there “hasn’t been much done to [the] main street in years.”

U.S. taxpayers shelled out over half a million dollars for improvements to one-tenth of a mile on the Main Street of a town with a population of only 1,150. Taxpayers in New York, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and California paid to make Rossville’s one-block downtown area “more decorative and colorful.”

These decorative and colorful improvements to one street block in Rossville, Kansas cost U.S. taxpayers $462 per resident of Rossville or $38,000 for each of the 14 businesses located on this block of Main Street.

To get a sense of perspective, here’s the town map from the town’s web site:


Doing the math, that $532,000 for sprucing up one-tenth of a mile of road works out to be $5.32 million per mile. If Ray Lahood could have spent the entire annual budget of the U.S. Department of Transportation under his administration just on fixing up America’s roads, he could have spruced up almost 13,910 miles worth of the nation’s 3,900,000 miles of public roads, or just 0.36% of the total!

And that’s why Ray Lahood could really have used a bigger budget to come up with and execute a really bold plan for repairing all of the nation’s roads instead of leaving them behind in such a state of disrepair. With the kind of bureaucratic spending efficiency achieved under his administration for this single project, he would need at least $20.75 trillion to do the job right.

To put that number in perspective, the GDP of the entire U.S. economy is $16.3 trillion. The U.S. federal government would have to tax 100% of that amount, then borrow another $4.45 trillion on top of that, just to really clean up that one big pothole that Lahood claims he left behind in his rear view mirror.

Featured Image:
U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration

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December 2013