Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Tale of Two Bridges, Indeed

Delroy Murdock takes on the Obama/Biden votes on the Bridge to Nowhere:
Obama and Biden had an excellent opportunity to do the right thing. Just seven weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Senator Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) proposed to transfer $125 million from the notorious Bridge’s budget and instead devote it to rebuilding the Interstate 10 Twin Spans Bridge between New Orleans and St. Tammany’s Parish. The storm chopped up the bridge.

“We have the largest natural catastrophe we have ever seen in our history,” Coburn said on the Senate floor on October 20, 2005. “It is time we reassess the priorities we utilize in this body as we think about our obligations at home.”

Coburn’s amendment failed 15-82. Obama and Biden were among the “nays.” They and 80 other senators preferred to protect the earmarking tradition than to assist Katrina’s tempest-tossed citizens.

Obama and Biden put pork first and people second. While the residents of New Orleans and southern Louisiana endured perhaps their greatest challenge since the Civil War, Obama and Biden both turned their backs on these embattled Americans.
Well, let's take a quick look at the debate on that amendment (well, to be fair, let's look at the entire debate on the amendment) [Congressional Record, October 20, 2005, page S11636]:

AMENDMENT NO. 2165, AS MODIFIED

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the purpose of my amendment does not have that much to do with Alaska as it does with priorities in our country. We put forward $600 billion of debt to our children last year ending September 30. We have a war going on. We have the largest natural catastrophe we have ever seen in our history. We have a hurricane coming on Florida. We are at war. It is time we reassess the priorities we utilize in this body as we think about our obligations at home.

The purpose of my amendment is to move $125 million out of above-the-line money--not program money, not formula money--to be used for this. I understand there is going to be another amendment. My hope is the American public will see how we are spending money and encourage us to spend it in a way that is more frugal and consistent with the heritage we have in the country, and that is making sacrifices today for the future of our country and for the next generation.

I reserve the remainder of my time.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Who yields time?

The Senator from Oklahoma.

Mr. INHOFE. Mr. President, I do not have a better friend than my colleague from Oklahoma, but it does not mean we always agree with each other. I have had a policy in voting for amendments on bills that I have adhered to for a long time, and it is if a Senator has a bill or an amendment that takes authority from an elected official and places it in the hands of an unelected bureaucrat and it does not save money, then I think it is not good policy. Unfortunately, I think that is what this does.

My good friend Senator Coburn and I have talked about this. I know it is a difficult thing for a lot of people to understand. Many people are watching this. I happen to be the person with the No. 1 most conservative rating in the Senate and yet I am not about to put myself in a position where I am going to take authority away from someone who has to stand for election in a particular State and give it to someone who does not have to stand for election, period.

I do not think that is a good idea. If it were something that saved money, I would have a different position on it, but in that respect I will oppose this.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oklahoma.

Mr. COBURN. How much time do I have remaining?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. One minute 11 seconds.

Mr. COBURN. Was Senator Inhofe's time taken from my time?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. It was not.

Mr. COBURN. I would say to my friend, whom I love dearly as a friend and a brother, this amendment is about changing the priorities in this country. We can reject that or we can accept it. I gave a speech this morning about the rumble that is out there in this country. We need to listen to that rumble. The rumble is the American people want us to start doing a better job of prioritizing how we spend money. I respect his position on this. I have no ill feelings that he will oppose me on this amendment.

This is an amendment that is good for the country.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Who yields time?

The Senator from Alaska.

Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, the Senator from Oklahoma who has just spoken, who is the author of this amendment, has indicated we need to be making sacrifices. I do not think anyone in the State of Alaska feels we should not be contributing, but we do not feel in the State of Alaska that it should be coming entirely from one State. This amendment puts the sacrifice on one State.

I urge rejection of this amendment.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Who yields time?

Mr. STEVENS. How much time remains?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Alaska has 1 minute remaining.

Mr. STEVENS. Mr. President, I would add to my colleague's comment to say this concept is a concept that every State should think about because if it can be done on a bridge, why not do it on any type of event where a Senator would like to have money for their State, but they say take it from another State because they do not need it. I made a statement earlier today that in my 37 years I have never seen this. I have never seen a request that money for a disaster be taken solely from a project in one State to help a disaster in other States.

We are a disaster-prone State. We have more disasters than any other State in the Union. Remember our 1964 earthquake. We have tsunamis. We have all types of disasters. But we have never tried to take moneys from other States to meet our costs.

I urge the Senate not to start this process.

I yield back the time.

Mr. BOND. I ask for the yeas and nays.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there a sufficient second?

There appears to be a sufficient second.

The question is on agreeing to Coburn amendment No. 2165, as modified.

The yeas and nays have been ordered.

The clerk will call the roll.

The legislative clerk called the roll.

Mr. MCCONNELL. The following Senator was necessarily absent: the Senator from Arizona (Mr. MCCAIN).

Mr. DURBIN. I announce that the Senator from New Jersey (Mr. Corzine) and the Senator from New York (Mr. Schumer) are necessarily absent.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Are there any other Senators in the Chamber desiring to vote?

The result was announced--yeas 15, nays 82, as follows:

[roll call follows]

Much as I hate to admit it, Stevens made a decent point with "Mr. President, I would add to my colleague's comment to say this concept is a concept that every State should think about because if it can be done on a bridge, why not do it on any type of event where a Senator would like to have money for their State, but they say take it from another State because they do not need it."

But that's not the most interesting thing here.

Here's something more interesting, a US Department of Transportation press release:

DOT 127-05
Contact: Brian Turmail
Monday, September 12, 2005
Tel.: (202) 366-4570

Repairs Begin Today on I-10 Twin Span Bridge in New Orleans

Work began today to repair the hurricane-damaged Twin Span Bridge that carries Interstate 10 traffic between New Orleans and Slidell, LA, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said.

"Restoring this critical eastward link for New Orleans will speed recovery of the city and the entire Gulf region," Secretary Mineta said. "Every day we're getting road work started to reconnect the region and help people rebuild."

On Friday, a contract was awarded to Boh Brothers Construction of New Orleans to repair damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina. In order to quickly restore two-way traffic, the eastbound span will be repaired first, providing one lane of traffic in each direction, Mineta said. The contract requires work to be completed within 45 days. The second phase of the work will result in repair of the westbound span which, along with the eastbound span, will provide two-lane traffic in each direction within 120 days.

The contract includes a $50,000 per-day incentive to complete the work ahead of schedule, as well as penalties if the repairs are not done on time, Mineta added.

Work also began Friday on a temporary replacement road for U.S. 90 in Mississippi, to be completed within 90 days. Parts of the road will be opened as work progresses, with full completion of the highway from Pass Christian to Biloxi scheduled for Dec. 9.
Wait a minute. This says that construction on the bridge was already under way weeks before the amendment was considered!

But there's more -- a press release from the Louisiana Department of Transportation:

Eastbound “twin span” on Interstate 10 to open on Friday
Contact: MARK LAMBERT, (225) 379-1221
October 13, 2005

Louisiana DOTD Secretary Johnny B. Bradberry announced that one of the Hurricane Katrina-damaged twin spans that crosses Lake Pontchartrain on I-10 between New Orleans and Slidell will open to two-way traffic on Friday afternoon, well ahead of schedule.

“Governor (Kathleen) Blanco directed that we restore traffic on this vital route as quickly as possible,” Bradberry said. “We are happy to get traffic moving again on I-10 17 days early at a substantial savings to the state.”

Storm surge from Katrina caused extensive damage to both spans of the bridge, knocking 435 concrete segments out of alignment.

All interstate traffic between Slidell and New Orleans has been routed onto the U.S. 11 bridge since Katrina struck on Aug. 29, causing long traffic delays. Reopening one span of the I-10 bridge “should give everyone a little breathing room,” Bradberry said. “Even though it’s just two-way traffic for now, we hope opening this span will help drivers move a little faster.”

To accommodate two-way traffic on the I-10 bridge, a traffic crossover has been constructed to allow I-10 westbound traffic in Slidell to move onto one lane of the repaired span. Another crossover on the New Orleans side of the bridge will allow those westbound drivers to transfer back to the regular westbound interstate lanes.

Boh Brothers, a Louisiana contractor, was awarded the contract on Sept. 9 with a low bid of $30.9 million. Contract specifications call for Boh Brothers to receive a bonus of $75,000 for each day traffic flow is established ahead of the 45-day deadline, with a 15-day cap. Even with the bonus included, the state will realize substantial savings from the estimated project cost of $53 million.

Phase II of the contract includes establishing traffic on the westbound span of the bridge by mid-January. Because the eastbound span was repaired with several undamaged concrete segments from the westbound span, Boh Brothers will use temporary bridge panels to complete the traffic lanes.

Once the westbound span is reopened, interstate traffic will be restored to its pre-Katrina configuration.

DOTD plans to take bids in spring 2006 for a replacement bridge. That structure will be an elevated, six-lane twin span bridge that should take approximately three years to build.

So one span of the bridge had been open for a week when the Senate debated the amendment.

Is it any wonder they voted it down?

Hmmmmmmmmmm. That vote, especially the lopsided result, looks a little different now.

By the way, there was a contract to replace the bridge entirely, but that wasn't let for more than another year (planned for Spring 2006, but not actually done until November).

And, as of October 5 (two weeks before the Senate vote) the state was announcing that the "entire repair project is being financed 100 percent by the Federal Highway Administration"