This week the Senate is considering a spending package that covers transportation, housing and urban development, military construction, and Veteran’s affairs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated that the entire package should get a final vote this week.
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) has filed numerous amendments cutting waste within the transportation bill, including a dinosaur themed bus and a streetcar in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Senator Flake has been outspoken about the need to cut wasteful spending within the Federal Government, specifically the VelociRFTA buses in Colorado that he has featured in his report Jurassic Pork and his annual Egregious 8 tournament.
According to the report, “the VelociRFTA is a $46 million Bus Rapid Transit system in Colorado that takes passengers from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. The buses were first earmarked for $810,000 in the 2010 omnibus bill. However, taxpayers weren’t out of this dinosaur’s clutches yet: in fiscal year 2011, the Department of Transportation’s New Starts program funded the project once again for over $24 million.”
Funding isn’t the only concern with the VelociRFTA project. According to local news reports, the transportation system took just 160,000 trips over its first year of operation, and with an upfront cost of $46 million, that amounts to almost $300 per trip. Amenities like wireless internet service, heated sidewalks, dinosaur footprints, and even replica dinosaur eggs to play on could be to blame for the high cost of the VelociRFTA project. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), who operates the buses, has received over $36 million in Federal assistance since the earmark ban in 2010.
Dino-buses aren’t the only thing on the chopping block. The “WAVE”, is a 2.7-mile streetcar in Fort Lauderdale that is estimated to cost $172.9 million. The streetcar is years behind schedule and faces $53 million in cost overruns, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.
Representative Debbie Wasserman-Shultz earmarked the WAVE in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Even after the earmark ban, Federal funds have continued to flow to the project including an $18 million Federal TIGER grant in 2012, and a $50 million request in the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget. Most recently, in 2015, the Department of Transportation’s pilot program for Transit-Oriented Development planning awarded the project $1.25 million for the continued planning of the WAVE Streetcar. All told, since the original earmark in 2008, the project has received over $82 million in taxpayer support.
The streetcar has been anything but a smooth WAVE for taxpayers. South Florida Regional Transport Authority (SFRTA) officials say the streetcar is in jeopardy of losing Federal and ultimately SFRTA support because of “unmet partner commitments and unresolved partner issues.” The City of Fort Lauderdale breached a partnership agreement when it missed a June 2014 deadline to produce $7.3 million as part of its overall $10.5 million project commitment.
Some Fort Lauderdale residents are concerned with the already limited ridership of Fort Lauderdale’s current public transportation options. “The Sun Trolley is not carrying enough people to make it OK to build a streetcar,” says Chris Brennan, a past candidate for Fort Lauderdale Mayor. The “Sun Trolley” is running in downtown Fort Lauderdale and has a similar route to the WAVE Streetcar.
At a time when our country has a crumbling infrastructure, it is important to ask if these projects are a priority for the United States. Instead of funding “pet” projects like dino buses or streetcars, we should be focusing on basic transportation infrastructure, like fixing streets, improving roadway safety, and sustainability.