Most folks have probably used the phrase, “it doesn’t hurt to ask,” knowing full well that the response to whatever they’re asking for will likely be “no.”
One might assume that’s the reason so many local leaders keep asking for money to help build their transportation projects, given the absence of any new federal funding strategy on the horizon, coupled with the supposed designation of “earmark” as a four-letter word in the political vocabulary. But do the speakers and the people they hope are listening know that?
On Wednesday, for example, the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority (MWAA) called on U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to provide as much as $1.2 billion in loans to help build the second phase of the Dulles Metrorail extension.
“The federal government really needs to step up to the plate,” asserted Mame Reiley, chair of MWAA’s Dulles Corridor Committee. Noting that LaHood considers the project among the most important in the U.S., Reiley added, “We agree, so show us the money.”
It should be noted that Reiley was a strong proponent of MWAA’s now-abandoned plan to construct an underground station at the main Dulles Airport terminal, a move that would have added $300 million to $600 million to the project’s price tag and strained the Authority’s already difficult relationships with its project partners—Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
But hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Reilly also called on Virginia to contribute $500 million to the project, more three times the $150 million the state government has tentatively agreed to chip in. State Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton immediately responded that the state doesn’t have the extra money, “and we have no intention of giving it.” (For the record, Virginia is finishing the fiscal year with a $544 million surplus, of which $83.2 million will go to transportation.)
Again, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Appeals for more money aren’t limited to big-budget, high-profile projects. Earlier this month, West Virginia officials celebrated the groundbreaking of the $11.3 million,1.3-mile initial section of the New River Parkway, a new scenic road that will make it easier for visitors to access National Park Service lands, and spur some economic development in the state’s southern counties. A second 5.2-mile segment, estimated to cost $22 million is currently in the design phase.
At the ceremony, State Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin encouraged U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D), the Parkway’s primary sponsor in Congress, to “get us that federal money now, and we'll build it right away.”
Tomblin may well have been joking, but if Congress could find some way to write a big check for the project…well, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
In response, Rahall admitted that getting the extra money would be difficult, but denied that the parkway and NPS facilities in the area could be categorized as wasteful “pork.” Instead, he said, “We see this kind of funding as an investment in hope and opportunity.”
No doubt the sponsors of most every other transportation project in U.S. will use similar language in justifying additional federal money. They always have. And given the gloomy projections in ASCE’s economic analysis of the long-term consequences of insufficient infrastructure investment, many do have strong cases for extra support.
But so far, the best Congress come up with is the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s six-year, $230 billion plan, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s two-year, $109 billion proposal. That means any hoped-for windfall of infrastructure money will likely amount to little more than a light breeze.
Rest assured, the cries for more money for specific projects will keep coming. After all, it doesn't hurt to ask. But having to wait or get by because you won't get it--now THAT'll be painful.