Vital Infrastructure = Tennis Courts, Aquatic Centers, and Dog Parks


America's mayors have $73 billion in "shovel ready" infrastructure projects just waiting to be funded by a new federal government stimulus package. In today's Wall Street Journal, Reason Foundation founder and director of transportation policy Robert Poole takes a look and finds that the mayors spell infrastructure as "P.O.R.K." What vital projects do they seek to fund?

On Monday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors went to Capitol Hill to ask for a handout, or as they put it: "We are reporting that in 427 cities of all sizes in all regions of the country, a total of 11,391 infrastructure projects are 'ready to go.' These projects represent an infrastructure investment of $73,163,299,303 that would be capable of producing an estimated 847,641 jobs in 2009 and 2010."

A wish list that is 11,391 projects strong! What vital infrastructure projects would cash-strapped taxpayers get for their $73 billion? Here's a sampling:

– Hercules, Calif., wants $2.5 million in hard-earned taxpayer money for a "Waterfront Duck Pond Park," and another $200,000 for a dog park.

– Euless, Texas, wants $15 million for the Midway Park Family Life Center, which, you'll be glad to note, includes both a senior center and aquatic facility.

– Natchez, Miss., "needs" a new $9.5 million sports complex "which would allow our city to host major regional and national sports tournaments."

– Henderson, Nev., is asking for $20 million to help "develop a 60 acre multi-use sports field complex."

– Brigham City, Utah, wants $15 million for a sports park.

– Arlington, Texas, needs $4 million to expand its tennis center.

– Miami, Fla., needs $15 million for a "Moore Park Community Center, Tennis Center and Day Care" facility. The city is also desperate for $3.6 million to build a covered basketball court and a new tennis court at Robert King High Park. Then there's the $94 million Orange Bowl parking garage you are being asked to pay for.

– La Porte, Texas, wants $7.6 million for a "Life Style Center." And Oakland, Calif., needs $1 million for Fruitvale Latino Cultural and Performing Arts Center.

And you thought infrastructure investment meant roads, bridges and schools. It is clear that any infrastructure stimulus money given to the country's mayors will lead to thousands of tennis centers to nowhere.

Forget about crumbling bridges, leaky water and sewer systems, and massive traffic congestion. Mayors prefer to cut ribbons in front of shiny new projects rather than fix up potholed highways, rotting bridges, grungy airports, and the like. Our infrastructure needs are great as Poole notes:

We have a backlog of deferred maintenance on both highways and bridges. According to Reason Foundation's Annual Highway Report, 24% of U.S. bridges were reported structurally deficient or functionally obsolete in 2006. At the current rate of repair it will take 62 years for those bridges to be brought up to date…

…we could eliminate severe congestion in all of the nation's urban areas for $21 billion a year—less than we are spending on transportation today, and $52 billion less than the mayors just asked for. And by investing in the right projects we'd save 7.7 billion hours each year.

Reducing traffic congestion, which costs Americans well over $63 billion a year in wasted time and fuel, should be a primary criterion for any transportation project that is funded. Our economy depends on it.

Whole Poole op/ed here. reason online editor Nick Gillespie decries the mayors' pork barreling here. And true policy geeks can dig into the Reason Foundation's transportation research here