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March 9, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
Few can forget the dustup over Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere” that halted the project and caused a national furor over Congressional earmarks. Actually, it was not a bridge to nowhere. The bridge would have connected the town of Ketchikan (population 8,900) to its airport on the Island of Gravina (population 50) at a total cost of $320 million to Federal Taxpayers. The bridge would have replaced a ferry that takes more than a half hour for a roundtrip crossing with a $6.00 fee each way. Citizens of Grand Island that pay tolls to get off and on their home island to go to Buffalo or Niagara Falls might agree if not in amount, magnitude or degree, but in principle with the people of Ketchikan and Gravina.

The bridge to nowhere became a cause celebre in Washington D.C. that quickly spread across the United States and became an issue in the Presidential Campaign. Congress ultimately pulled the plug on the bridge. Opponents of the bridge and of earmarks in general celebrated, but most of the money found its way to Alaska in unrelated programs. Talk about the bridge to nowhere has subsided, but opposition to Congressional earmarks has intensified despite the notion that spending government money on bridges to nowhere is precisely where government spending ought to be concentrated.

The government ought to spend money in those areas where the private sector can’t or won’t—America’s out-of-the way places. I applaud Alaska’s congressional Delegation, two US Senators and one member of Congress, for bringing home the bacon for the few constituents. I understand New York’s dilemma—spend the money where the votes are as demonstrated by the fact that it took more than 40 years to get Interstate 86 finished through Chautauqua County. I can only hope Chautauqua County’s Congressional representatives would be openly enthusiastic and aggressive about earmarking more pork in the federal budget for local consumption. The following are a few of my priorities:

1, $150-200 million to four lane Route 60 from North Main Street, Jamestown to Dunkirk and Interstate 90.

2. $150-300 million to demolish N. Main Street in Jamestown to city line. Tie N. Main into newly constructed four lane highway to Dunkirk—Rte 60.

3. Phase 2 of the above project would prepare area between Washington Street and N. Main Street for commercial development.

4. Phase 3 of same project would connect that area west from N. Main Street between Fluvanna Avenue and W. Oak Hill Road for commercial development.

5. $180 million: Install high speed internet to every home in Jamestown.

6. $100 million. Phase 2 of above project. Bury all above ground utilities in the city—electric, telephone and cable.

7. $15 million to refurbish train station in Jamestown.

Crazy ideas? Hair brained notions? Pie-in-the sky thoughts? Wild-eyed liberal ravings? Perhaps, but I believe too many of our economic development dollars (an oxy-moron?) have been spent stabilizing existing businesses or underwriting new enterprises that have not lived up to expectations. I find no fault with government or business people involved in such transactions—they were merely carrying out policy, albeit the wrong policy.

Chautauqua County, especially Southern Chautauqua County—Jamestown in particular—would greatly benefit from a four lane, north-south highway. The immediate benefit would be to connect the southeastern part of the county with the rest of New York and provide a gateway to and from the United States and Canada. Manufacturers need access to shipping routes, north-south, east-west highways, railroads and air transport, the more the better.

North Main Street from Five Points to the I-86 interchange could be Jamestown’s Golden Strip—our Million Dollar Mile. Preparing N. Main Street west to Washington Street would open up Jamestown to commercial development on a scale the likes of which we have never seen. Fluvanna Avenue could become what nearly everyone had once hoped it would become—a bustling business sector. A four lane Route 60 together with the North Main-Fluvanna Avenue project and that area behind the former Big N Plaza would be one of the largest contiguous, urban parcels available for development in New York State if not throughout the entire Northeast Region. But you protest—that would require relocation a few hundred people. True—but, we know how to do that—we did it before, remember Brooklyn Square and Urban Renewal?

Municipally operated high speed internet would open our fine city to the world. The citizens of Lafayette, Louisiana voted to spend $120 million to make internet access available to every home and business in their electric company’s service area. Voters went to the polls and approved the bonding resolution despite threats from one of the state’s largest employers, Verizon a communication competitor. to leave the state. The people of Lafayette have cheap electricity, they own three power plants, broadband telephone service round the world for pennies and ala carte cable television. Verizon stayed. If we are really serious about making Jamestown even more beautiful we should bury our overhead utilities.

Renovation of the Erie-Lackawanna Train Station, a building of unspectacular history except that it was built by the government during a previous stretch of bad economic times in the Thirties. Residents of Jamestown probably did not fuss about government spending then and we should follow their example. $15 million is out of reach for the private sector, but the real benefactors of renovation would be small business. Who knows? Perhaps we could even have rail service from Jamestown to Mayville to Dunkirk and point in between. Pennsylvania might want a piece of that project by running return passenger service to Erie.

For those of you worried about government debt; it was my generation that were the kids burdened by the debt from Social Security, WWII, the GI Bill and Korea. My children and their generation were burdened by the debt from Vietnam and the Cold War. My children’s children will be burdened by the debt we are piling up now, but that’s okay. As far as I know we, the United States has never once defaulted on a debt. I doubt that we ever will, because the Reagan Administration declared that deficits did not matter and my grandsons, six and five, and the kids they run with are much smarter than their parents and grandparents. Their generation will handle the government’s debt in a breeze, just like their parents and grandparents.


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A Bridge to Nowhere