Saturday, July 30, 2005

Roll Out The Barrel

The United States Congress has gone into recess. After a gruelling bout of bill drafting, debating, i-dotting and t-crossing, it is about time for a well deserved vacation. (It would be uncharitable to observe that about 280 million Americans deserve a vacation from the hot air that seems to be an inescapable by-product of democracy.) The House and the Senate spent a lot of time working on complex issues such as Central American Free Trade, domestic security, and energy strategies. Inevitably there were winners and losers in the process. As the session was winding down it was clear that from the average citizen’s viewpoint, that the losers outnumbered the winners by about 279, 915,138 to 1,084,138. Luckily, there was still the Transportation Bill to even up the score.

With a final price tag of about $280 billion, the opportunities to ‘be about the people’s business’ and get a headline in the hometown newspaper were almost unlimited. State politicians across the country were salivating at the potential dollar-to-headline ratio: California - $23 billion, Maryland - $3.8 billion, Ohio - $7.5 billion. But true to its democratic roots, Congress also remembered small-town America. After all, it doesn’t take much to make a small town happy! Harrison, Arkansas got $33,440 for a new trolley barn. Abbeville, Georgia received $300,000 for a new welcome centre and Northport, New York was awarded $80,000 for new sidewalks. Milwaukee was given $640,000 to improve the Marsupial Bridge at the Holton Street Viaduct (to the undoubted delight of kangaroo owners of that fair city). Virtually no community was overlooked in the desire to make sure that average people’s lives could be improved. As Don Young (R- Alaska), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee proclaimed, "This day is a truly momentous day for users of our nation's transportation infrastructure." It was certainly a momentous day for the citizens of Ketchikan, Alaska (population 14,470). If it doesn’t take much to make small towns happy, the $230 million dollars awarded to Ketchikan for a new bridge should have the same effect as giving every man, woman and child in town a lifetime supply of ecstasy. After all, the average improvement in this case works out to about $16,000 per person.

The good news is that although the new bridge will not directly help reduce traffic flows in New York or San Francisco, it will be 80 feet higher than the Brooklyn Bridge and just 20 feet shorter than the Golden Gate. Even better, the new bridge will provide access to the teeming island of Gravina (population 50) and the Ketchikan International Airport (6 flights a day). Dale Collins, an overjoyed resident of Ketchikan, reflected the excitement of the community: "The funny thing, when that big bridge is done, it will take more time to get to the airport than it does now on our little ferry, but it sure will be big. It's unbelievable, the size of that bridge." You can’t have everything when you are in the momentous days business. Given the tireless work of Representative Young in responding to the crushing traffic congestion problems of Ketchikan, it seemed only fair that the new bridge should be called ‘Don Young’s Way’.

Alaskans can only hope that Mr Young will take over the Environment Committee in the next term. Given his obvious legislative abilities and the limitless supply of hot air in Washington, it shouldn’t cost more than about half a trillion dollars to turn Gravina Island into a mecca for millions of beach loving tourists. Luckily, driving over to the island won’t be a problem.


Blogger Abby Taylor said...

Walmart can't be far behind!

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Blogger birdwoman said...

A serious comment from me for once...

A few months ago, I watched a program documenting the building of the trans-alaskan highway. They built it as fast as they could during WWII. And even the stupidest things, like avoiding marsh land, are nearly impossible up there.


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