The tunnel project clearly has nothing to do with promoting the nation’s general welfare. It’s a purely parochial concern that should have been paid for by the people who would use it. But that’s just it – “Yinzers” would have never agreed to pick up the entire tab for the project. That leads to another problem: federal transportation dollars are often allocated on the basis of political, rather than economic, considerations. If you’ve ever taken the white-knuckle drive on I-70 near Washington, PA, then you know that that there’s no way that the money spent on the Pittsburgh tunnel was the best use of transportation dollars in western Pennsylvania. Then there’s the “Bud Shuster Highway” in central Pennsylvania, which only got built because the former congressman was able to use his chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee to bring home the bacon (see here).
In sum, Pennsylvania is a good example of why transportation policy should be devolved from the federal government to the states. Unfortunately, Rick Santorum’s purchasing of political support with federal taxpayer dollars shows why members of Congress won’t be in any hurry to give up the transportation golden goose anytime soon.
See here for more on downsizing the Department of Transportation.