Senator tells Transportation's Buttigieg to stop 'billion dollar boondoggles' with transparency

Any taxpayer-funded project that is five or more years overdue and $1 billion or more over budget must be reported

Updated: June 29, 2022 - 9:11pm

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Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) reminded Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that her provision in last year's infrastructure bill requires the Transportation Department to publicly disclose and justify every taxpayer-funded project that is $1 billion or more over budget and five years or more behind schedule. 

Ernst explained that she plans on using the Transportation Department's annual report about overdue and over budget projects to "establish an automatic alert system that will raise alarms about projects with ballooning budgets and missed deadlines so Congress and DOT can take whatever actions may be necessary to prevent financially mismanaged projects from becoming billion dollar boondoggles." 

The Iowa Republican pointed out four projects that were years behind schedule and billions over budget in a letter to the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor last week. 

Officials planned for California's 800-mile high-speed rail project to finish in 2020 and cost $33 billion, with construction beginning in 2008. The project is now scheduled to finish in 2033, at a cost of $105 billion, Ernst noted.

In another example, a Hawaii rail project was planned for completion in January 2020 over the course of eight years at a cost of $5.1 billion. The project has since been delayed until 2031 and will cost $12.5 billion.

"To put these numbers into perspective, Iowa has budgeted a total of $835 million for road and bridge construction projects across the entire state for a full year!" Ernst stressed in her letter.

"Going a billion dollars over budget is not a rounding error and delays of five years or more are not inconsequential interruptions and should not be simply accepted as standard business practices, much less subsidized with blank checks from taxpayers," she said.

Ernst awarded the Department of Transportation and its secretary the "June 2022 Squeal Award" for the National Capital Purple Line, a subway line meant to connect Washington, D.C., to the Maryland suburbs. The project's price tag rose from $2 billion to $9.3 billion, and the finish date was pushed four years to 2026. 

OpenTheBooks.com founder and CEO Adam Andrzejewski praised Ernst's accountability efforts.

"What government program is running well? Certainly not the four transit systems highlighted by Sen. Ernst and her Squeal Award. These infrastructure projects continue to milk taxpayers like dairy cows. The projects are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule. It's time to make America accountable again and Ernst is leading the charge," he said. 

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