Earmarks list for states in U.S. House infrastructure bill tops $5.7B

Four transportation projects submitted by Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson made the cut

Pocatello's Center Street Bridge
Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, submitted six projects for funding consideration through Congress' new earmarks process, including a $4.3 million proposal for improvements to Pocatello's troubled Center Street underpass. Four of the projects made the cut, including the Pocatello proposal. (Courtesy of the city of Pocatello)

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats’ highway funding bill is poised to include roughly three out of five transportation projects submitted by members, as legislators vie for their share of federal dollars through the resurrected congressional earmarks process.

The 1,473 projects that made the cut were out of 2,383 that Democratic and Republican legislators requested for inclusion in a federal infrastructure bill, at a time when infrastructure is the subject of prolonged, high-profile negotiations between the White House and Republicans in Congress.

The earmarks list — detailed in an amendment to five-year, $547 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will take up on Wednesday — has a price tag of $5.7 billion. That’s about 40% of the nearly $14.9 billion that was requested for member-designated projects.

Of the six projects submitted for consideration by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, four in Idaho’s Second Congressional District made the cut. Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho, did not submit proposals for Idaho’s First Congressional District during the process.

Requests from Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson that made the first cut for Biden’s transportation plan

  • Project: I-15B (US-30) McCammon IC to Old US-91
  • Location: McCammon
  • Need outlined: Extend the life cycle of the highway, which is a major trucking corridor in southeast Idaho with a history of deep ruts and cracking.
  • Cost estimate: $1,716,660
  • Project sponsor: Idaho Transportation Department
  • Simpson’s letter on project: https://simpson.house.gov/uploadedfiles/mccammon_ic_to_old_us-91.pdf
  • Project: State Street Premium Corridor
  • Location: Boise and Garden City
  • Need outlined: Upgrades for bus information, fare payment operations, shelters and bus stops, pedestrian and bicycle connections and safe bus pullouts.
  • Cost estimate: $2,000,000
  • Project sponsor: Valley Regional Transit
  • Simpson’s letter on project: https://simpson.house.gov/uploadedfiles/state_street_premium_corridor.pdf
  • Project: First Street Reconstruction
  • Location: Ammon
  • Need outlined: Reconstruct First Street from Hitt Road to Ammon Road. Street will be widened to five lanes and curb, gutter and sidewalk to be added. Project will widen the Sand Creek Bridge to five lanes and include sidewalks and add a traffic signal to the Curlew Drive intersection. 
  • Cost estimate: $5,375,700 
  • Project sponsor: City of Ammon
  • Simpson’s letter on project: https://simpson.house.gov/uploadedfiles/first_street_reconstruction.pdf
  • Project: Center Street Railroad Bridge Underpass
  • Location: Pocatello
  • Need outlined: Repair and replace infrastructure relating to the structure’s sidewalks and retaining walls. Roadway, pedestrian lighting and stormwater system updates. Project will fund a pedestrian bridge across Center Street.
  • Cost estimate: $4.3 million
  • Project sponsor: City of Pocatello
  • Simpson’s letter on project: https://simpson.house.gov/uploadedfiles/center_street_railroad_bridge_underpass.pdf

The two projects requested but not included in the bill were:

  • Project: Fort Hall Connect – Upgrade of Ross Fork Road
  • Location: Fort Hall
  • Need outlined: Upgrade Ross Fork Road just off Interstate 15 to keep up with traffic flow and safety and to upgrade the ability to enter and exit tribal enterprises and developments. Sections of the road are currently failing. 
  • Cost estimate: $3.5 million
  • Project sponsor: Shoshone-Bannock Tribes
  • Simpson’s letter on project: https://simpson.house.gov/uploadedfiles/fort_hall_connect_project.pdf
  • Project: State Highway 27, Burley City Limits to Junction I-84, Minidoka County
  • Location: Burley
  • Need outlined: Repair 1.4 miles of deficient pavement on a segment of State Highway 27 that connects the city of Burley to Interstate 84. The route is heavily utilized by the agricultural industry to transport equipment and supplies between Twin Falls and other areas of Idaho. 
  • Cost estimate: $3.2 million
  • Project sponsor: Idaho Transportation Department
  • Simpson’s letter on project: https://simpson.house.gov/uploadedfiles/burley_city_limits_to_jct_i-84.pdf

If the bill is passed, districts represented by Democrats would receive the largest share of those dollars. Nearly $4 billion is designated for projects requested by Democrats, and $1.7 billion is for Republican-backed projects.

Republicans requested money for far fewer projects than Democrats did, and some Republicans didn’t request any earmarked funding at all. 

Montana’s sole House member, Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale, did not request any project spending, so the state would not receive any dollars from that portion of the bill.

Among Republicans, roughly 400 of the 600 projects they sought were included. Of the 1,778 projects that Democrats sought, the proposal includes 1,067.

Some lawmakers saw each of their proposals included in the measure. The 11 Nevada requests for roadway repairs, bridge projects, and zero-emission buses all made the cut. 

Others were granted part of what they submitted. 

Rep. Garret Graves — the Louisiana Republican who had the most-expensive request with his submission for a new bridge for Baton Rouge — was successful in getting $8 million for pre-engineering design work and $1.6 million for an environmental evaluation included in the bill. 

However, the $946 million that Graves sought for actually building that bridge was not included. 

The return of earmarks process

Congressional Democrats brought back the earmarks process this year, after Republicans banished it in 2011 following intense public criticism of corruption and a lack of fairness. 

If the pending highway bill were to become law, it would be the first since 2005 to include earmarks, according to the Eno Center for Transportation.

New guidelines intended to make earmarks more fair and more visible require lawmakers to post documentation for each project on their websites, with a letter attesting that they have no financial stake in the project.

The text of the pending amendment doesn’t specify which lawmaker requested money for an individual project. But members can be identified by sorting through the list of project requests on the House Transportation panel’s website.

Across States Newsroom’s 22 states, lawmakers took varying approaches to the number of projects they submitted and the cost of those projects. 

Some turned in targeted lists totaling close to the $20 million that House lawmakers were advised could flow back to each district if a new surface transportation bill is signed into law. Others asked for dozens of projects at costs that far exceeded that figure.

Wisconsin, Tennessee and Missouri, where lawmakers generally submitted project lists with a cost close to that figure, had among the highest percentages of their requests included. 

Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild, a Democrat, submitted four projects tallying exactly $20 million. All four of those proposals for road work and bridge replacements were selected.

On the other end of the spectrum, Maryland’s eight House members sought funding for nearly 100 projects, at an average cost of more than $100 million per district. Just 20 of those Maryland projects were included in the bill. 

“It certainly was not an easy nor quick task for our committee to vet thousands of submissions,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, (D-Oregon), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement. “But it was absolutely worth it to give elected representatives the chance to directly advocate on behalf of their districts in our surface transportation bill.”

Republicans, Biden negotiating for weeks on price tag of bill

As the House-drafted highway bill heads to the next step in the legislative process, there’s no guarantee that any of the projects ultimately will get funded and built. 

President Joe Biden and congressional Republicans have been negotiating for weeks over the price tag of a bill to pay for building and repairing scores of aging and failing highways, bridges and transit systems. 

It’s unclear if they’ll be able to reach a consensus, and if not, if Democrats will be able to push through a major transportation bill without GOP support.

In the meantime, congressional Democrats are attempting to continue moving forward on infrastructure. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced a surface transportation bill last month.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), has said she wants an infrastructure measure to come to the floor before July Fourth. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), has said his chamber will also take up transportation legislation next month.