Coburn: Billions In Federal Highway Funds Misspent

Thursday, July 30th 2009, 5:31 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6

UNDATED -- As Congress considers bailing out a near-bankrupt National Highway Fund, Senator Tom Coburn is railing against what he says is wasteful spending on America's roads.  The Oklahoma lawmaker claims $78 billion have been misspent over the past four years.

"Our priorities are messed up.  The American people know our priorities are messed up. Hopefully, we can re-direct transportation dollars to true transportation projects," said Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn.

Senator Coburn took the Senate floor Thursday to discuss a recently-released Government Accountability Office report.  The report took a look at spending by the Department of Transportation from 2004 through 2008.  It says that $78 billion was spent on work that did not include construction and maintenance of highways and bridges.  It was spent on projects like bike and pedestrian paths, and landscaping.  

Coburn says that's too much, and it's a sentiment echoed by Senator John McCain of Arizona.

"How in the world can those things be justified, and expect our constituents not to rise up in horror?" said Arizona Republican Senator John McCain.

Specific projects cited by the senators are $2 billion for more than 5,500 bike paths and pedestrian walkways.  Another $850 million for 2,700 landscaping projects and $121 million for 63 Ferry projects, including a ferry in Oklahoma City with weekly cartoon cruises.

"I think that's great if we don't have a trust fund that's broke, and we don't have 200,000 bridges in the country that are structurally deficient, have some sort of defect," said Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.

Coburn also discussed Wednesday's accident on Highway 169 in Tulsa.  A man was seriously injured after another driver slid into a bridge and dislodged a piece of concrete that hit his car.  The senator says it's a prime example of why highway money is misspent.

"The dollars that went to plant flowers, to put walking paths, mean that guy is in the hospital today because dollars didn't go to what they were intended for," said Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.

In response to the Government Accountability Office report, the U.S. Department of Transportation says that even if projects aren't directly highway-related, they often involve some bridge and road work.