In Indiana, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels realized that his state lacked the money to maintain the Indiana Toll Road. For $3.8 billion, the state entered into a 75-year lease with a consortium of an Australian company and a Spanish company. As a result, Indiana no longer faces billions of dollars in road maintenance. In exchange, the investors intend to raise tolls for those using the roads. In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley did something similar. He leased the Chicago Skyway -- an eight-mile elevated highway -- for 99 years in a $1.8 billion deal.
At one time, James Monroe, our fifth president, felt the Constitution disallowed federal toll collection, federally funded repairs and federal jurisdiction over the multi-state Cumberland Road. In 1822, Monroe cast his only veto against such a bill, even though his home state of Virginia stood to benefit.
According to Monroe's biography on the University of Virginia's americanpresident.org, " . . . As the United States continued to grow, many Americans advocated a system of internal improvements to help the country develop. Monroe thought this a good idea; he believed that the young nation needed an improved infrastructure, including a transportation network to grow and thrive economically. However, [Monroe] did not think that the Constitution said anything about the authority to build, maintain, and operate a national transportation system. . . . The issue came to a head when Congress passed a bill in 1822 to repair the Cumberland Road, or National Road, and equip it with a system of tolls. . . . Monroe vetoed the bill, however; it was his contention that the states through which the road passed should undertake the setting up and collecting of tolls because Congress lacked the authority to do so." (Three years later, on his last day in office, Monroe signed a bill authorizing extension of the Cumberland Road, leaving some constitutional scholars scratching their heads.)
Today, the federal government passes highway bills every six years or so, replete with pork projects. The last one, passed in 2005, included snowmobile trails and horse trails, as well as a documentary about infrastructure in Alaska. Some of the money never gets to critical highway maintenance.
So Americans continue the schizophrenia of demanding that the federal government keep us safe against our enemies, while simultaneously demanding a federally funded welfare state that saps time, attention and money from the very business of keeping us safe.
Well, we can always blame Bush.
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