‘Bridge to nowhere’ draws fire | VailDaily.com

‘Bridge to nowhere’ draws fire

John Schroyer
Kelley Cox/Post IndepedentTim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, criticized Congress for spending money without input from local officials or residents.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” A small group of government watchdogs, upset about federal spending for projects they consider ill-advised or wasteful, staged a protest this week in South Glenwood over $6.2 million in federal funds earmarked for the South Bridge project.

“Most Americans know that the spending mechanism in Washington is broken,” asserted Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity.

The funding was obtained for Glenwood Springs by U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, and Phillips painted the earmark as a step of financial folly, an instance of political hubris that reveals how little Salazar cares about dialogue with his district.

“It’s a Washington politician who decides he knows best without any debate or scrutiny from local officials,” Phillips said.

State transportation officials and Garfield County Commissioner John Martin have expressed their displeasure with the earmark, which some think will do nothing but take funding from other communities’ projects.

“When someone goes around the process and gets that earmark, it puts that project at the beginning of the line when all those other local projects have been waiting in the wings,” Colorado Department of Transportation spokesperson Stacey Stegman said when the watchdog group’s opposition first was made public.

One of the biggest problems with the bridge project, said Stegman, is that it would require matching state and local funds to complete. The bridge could cost up to $20 million.

“I think we’re appreciative of it,” Glenwood Mayor Bruce Christensen recently said of the earmark. “The problem is it’s not nearly enough money to build a bridge.”

Salazar’s office has asserted that the South Bridge is just the kind of project for which earmarks were created.

“It’s been a huge bonus for rural Colorado to have Congressman Salazar on the Transportation Committee and to make sure rural projects get federal support,” Salazar spokesman Nayyera Haq said. “A budget is about putting money where it matters and prioritizing.”

Phillips referred to Martin’s labeling the project the “bridge to nowhere” because the fate of the Glenwood Springs airport has yet to be decided. The south bridge project would provide a secondary access route between Midland Avenue and Highway 82. The route could cross airport property if the airport is closed.

Phillips contends the Glenwood project is simply one of almost 16,000 such earmarks that were “slipped in” to various bills in 2005. The South Bridge funding was included in the “Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act,” which Phillips thinks is “almost Orwellian.”

Americans For Prosperity chose “the 50 most egregious” earmarks to protest. Also on the group’s list was a proposed wildlife bridge the would give animals a way to cross over Interstate 70 on Vail Pass.

Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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