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In an address on the anniversary of the economic stimulus, President Barack Obama boasted that despite the massive and rapid spending in the $862 billion package, you're not hearing about money being misspent.
"I was still concerned -- Joe (Biden) and I were just talking in the back -- when this thing passed we said $787 billion -- somewhere there’s going to be some story of some money that ended up being misspent; $787 billion spent out over 18 months, that's a lot -- that's a lot of money," Obama said. "And it is a testimony to Vice President Biden and his team that, as Joe puts it, the dog, so far at least, hasn't barked."
On the same day Obama made his speech, House Republican Leader John Boehner issued a press release saying the stimulus is "chock-full of wasteful government spending." And he attached a list of 19 "real world" examples. We took a look at several items on Boehner's list to see if they were as billed.
In this item, we examine the claim that the stimulus includes "$7 million to build a bridge in Thedford, Nebraska, to help 168 residents avoid a 30-second wait at a local train crossing. Not one full-time job will be created."
This one leaped to national fame thanks to a Jan. 28, 2010, report on CNN. Based on the population of Thedford, the reporter stated, "That means the project cost of $6.9 million breaks down to $41,000 per resident on paper."
It's true that $7 million in stimulus funds was awarded to build a viaduct allowing traffic to pass over BNSF Railway tracks on U.S. 83 in Thedford, instead of crossing directly on the tracks. And it's fair to say, based on those quoted in the CNN report as well as in the Omaha World-Herald on July 19, 2009, that a lot of locals think it's a huge waste of money.
But the two-sentence description in the Boehner release presents a slightly distorted picture. While the population of Thedford is 168, about 1,273 vehicles a day cross the tracks and about 60 trains a day pass through, according to the World-Herald. And while some locals say the wait for a train passing is sometimes as short as 20 seconds (or as long as 3 minutes), Nebraska Department of Roads officials cited safety, not convenience, concerns as the impetus for the project (though no accidents have been reported at the crossing).
Nebraska officials told the Omaha World-Herald that U.S. 83 serves as a main route between two cities, and that a train derailment or track maintenance could shut the crossing down for an extended time. The nearest north-south route is at least 25 miles away.
"It’s a project that qualifies under our rules and regs, and it's a good project. It eliminates a lot of exposure, and it provides some tremendous continuity to our highway system," Ellis Tompkins, rail and public transportation engineer with the roads department, told the World-Herald.
We're not going to weigh in on the merits of the project, but we did want to point out one other distortion in the Boehner claim, that "not one full-time job will be created" by the project. The CNN report notes that only a few locals were hired as temps, including a woman who worked part-time for a couple of months for $10 an hour waving a flag. A Colorado contractor won the bid for the project and is using its own out-of-state workers. So locals complained that it wasn't creating jobs for people in Thedford. But that doesn't mean it didn't create any jobs -- only that those jobs went to people in Colorado, less than 100 miles away.
So Boehner has the project and the pricetag correct, but we think it's misleading to claim the bridge only leads to a town of 168, when it is crossed more than 1,200 times a day. And the claim that it has not created any jobs is wrong. It might not create any full-time jobs for Thedford residents, but it will for those employed by the Colorado company that got the multimilion dollar contract. And so we rule this claim Half True.
Web site of House Republican Leader John Boehner, "As Dems’ 'Stimulus' Anniversary Nears, Americans Ask: 'Where are the Jobs?'" Feb. 12, 2010
Recovery.gov, the U.S. government’s official website providing easy access to data related to Recovery Act spending
CNN, "Small Town, Big Bridge," Jan. 28, 2010
Omaha World-Herald (Nebraska), "World-Herald Exclusive: $7 million viaduct: safety fix or waste? Locals question using stimulus funds at a crash-free railroad crossing in Thedford," by Joseph Morton, July 19, 2009
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