Obamateurism of the Day

Let’s build a bridge between yesterday’s OOTD and today’s by … talking about bridges. Yesterday’s OOTD involved Barack Obama “over-suggesting” the danger on bridges in North Carolina, while today’s has Obama over-promising on a bridge in Cincinnati. While in Ohio pushing his jobs bill last week, Obama said that his new round of infrastructure spending would repair the Brent Spence Bridge, connecting Kentucky and Ohio:

The 48-year-old Brent Spence Bridge spanning the Ohio River near Cincinnati isn’t much to look at. But for President Obama, it’s become a rallying cry for his $477 billion jobs plan.

He referred to it in his Sept. 8 speech to Congress, saying “there’s a bridge that needs repair between Ohio and Kentucky that’s on one of the busiest trucking routes in North America.” And on Thursday he plans to use Brent Spence as the backdrop for another pitch for his jobs bill, which includes $27 billion in “immediate” highway spending.

Well, if it’s falling apart, then it should be fixed.  The only problem is that the bridge isn’t in need of repair — and the plan has been to build a completely separate bridge to share the traffic load:

Although some press accounts have described Brent Spence as “crumbling,” and the White House says it’s an example of “ur gently needed” repairs, the bridge isn’t falling apart. In fact, it’s designed to last for decades more.

It is, however, “functionally obsolete,” which in this case means it’s too small to handle the daily traffic load. While designed to handle 85,000 cars and trucks, it now carries more than 150,000, leading to regular backups.

So the plan isn’t to do extensive repairs on the bridge, but to build an entirely new one right next to it and keep the old one in use.

And they do have a plan to build the additional bridge — only that construction won’t take place for another four years.  It also won’t finish until 2022.  That’s hardly the immediate work that Obama’s job-creation stimulus bill promises.  Even if all the funding got committed now, it would take almost two years to break ground, not from lack of funding but because of all the government red tape that has blocked this project for most of the last ten years.

Besides, as the WaPo’s Glenn Kessler discovered, there’s a bigger hole in Obama’s argument than any found on the bridge, and he gives more background on the red tape as well, emphasis mine:

We dug a little deeper, and no money in the jobs bill is intended for the bridge. But administration officials argue that the act would provide additional funding for the Federal Highway Administration, and some of that money could be used to speed up environmental and other approvals.

“This means that the environmental work could finish by February ’12. A contract could be awarded late in ’12, and the workers could begin construction on the approaches to the bridge, which is a big part of the project, in ’13,” one administration official said. Another official said the money could speed up other required steps.

We get a little wary when we hear “could” in every sentence of administration talking points. Indeed, congressional aides find this timeline highly dubious.

The public schedule for the bridge, which can be found here, has the environmental approval scheduled for July 2012, just four months later than the administration’s “could” time frame. Construction is not slated to start until 2015, while the president’s jobs bill would spend most of its money in its first year.

Why does it take more funding to “speed up” the approvals?  Just eliminate them and get to work.  Heck, I’d do that for ten cents on the dollar.  Well, I would if Obama’s bill actually provided any funding for the Brent Spence Bridge at all, but it doesn’t.

So really, this is an object lesson in job creation, even in the public sector.  The best way to get jobs created immediately isn’t to throw money at something, but to reduce the unnecessary regulatory burdens that keep people from working.  Unfortunately, Obama doesn’t seem open to learning the real lesson of the Brent Spence Bridge.

Got an Obamateurism of the Day? If you see a foul-up by Barack Obama, e-mail it to me at [email protected] with the quote and the link to the Obamateurism. I’ll post the best Obamateurisms on a daily basis, depending on how many I receive. Include a link to your blog, and I’ll give some link love as well. And unlike Slate, I promise to end the feature when Barack Obama leaves office.

Illustrations by Chris Muir of Day by Day. Be sure to read the adventures of Sam, Zed, Damon, and Jan every day!

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David Strom 8:41 PM on January 30, 2023