Earmarks are wonderful for the people and organizations for whom they’re designated. It’s a way to bypass normal funding procedures and jumpstart or finish a project. Instead of a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., and your state capitol analyzing your project for its funding worthiness, you work with your locally elected official to get project funding.

Earmarks also help institutions ineligible for federal funding (for example: many local museums) get projects built for them. Earmarks may mean that your project starts getting federal grants earlier.

What earmarks also do is reduce the amount of money available for formula and Department of Transportation discretionary funding as well as lower the statewide “transportation pot.” It’s also probably immoral to use political instead of objective considerations to decide which projects are funded and which aren’t. 

However, with the right politician and the right group speaking in their ear, earmarks may mean the difference in your town getting that bike lane funded or not, because the state Department of Transportation continues to say no.

In the federal spending bill President Obama plans to sign soon, there are $7.7 billion dollars in earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS). This, so far, only includes disclosed earmarks (a handy table listing all earmarks and requesting politicians is downloadable), and the group is searching through the bill text to find the billions more in undisclosed earmarks.

Here I note a couple items of interest to Illinoisans in transportation (download searchable PDF with national table or download Excel spreadsheet from TCS):

  • Alternative Analysis Study for the J-Route Bus Rapid Transit (BTR) Project; $237,500; Rep. Roskam
  • Peoria Regional Airport; $950,000; Sen. Durbin
  • DeKalb/Taylor Municipal Airport, Various Improvements; $1,235,000; Rep. Foster, Sen. Durbin
  • CTA Red line Extension (Alternatives Analysis); $285,000; Rep. Jackson, Sen. Durbin
  • CTA Yellow Line Extension (Alternatives Analysis); $237,500; Rep. Schakowsky, Sen. Durbin
  • CTA Brown Line* (Capital Investment Grant); $30,00,000; Sen. Durbin
  • CTA Circle Line** (Capital Investment Grant); $6,000,000; Sen. Durbin
  • Metra Rock Island 35th St. Station Improvements; $712,500; Rep. Rush
  • Multimodal Center in Normal; $237,500; Rep. Weller
  • Paratransit Vehicles, West Central Mass Transit District; $104,500; Rep. LaHood
  • Replacement Heavy Duty Transit Buses, Madison County Mass Transit District; $475,000; Rep. Costello
  • Replacement of Paratransit Vehicles, Greater Peoria Mass Transit District, Peoria; $380,000; Rep. LaHood

And the list goes on. Click Read More for the notes about the CTA, info on Metra’s share, and BRT.

Metra would also receive $24 million in Capital Investment Grants for improvements to SouthWest Service (to Manhattan), STAR Line (circumferential suburb-to-suburb), and Union Pacific Lines Northwest (to Harvard/McHenry) and West (to Elburn via Geneva).

Note: *About the CTA Brown Line – I’m going to guess that this money is to help payback the construction bonds. The Brown Line reconstruction project cost over $550 million and is still incomplete (should be done before winter 2009). **About the CTA Circle Line – I have no idea what this $6 million is for. It could be for more alternatives analysis, right of way acquisition, environmental review, phase I/II design or engineering.

It’s interesting to read these because no one proofreads the entries. The entry about the Metra 35th St. station was originally “METRAs'” as if Metra was an acronym, and it used a possessive apostrophe. And Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is mentioned at least once as BTR. Here’s the list of BRT projects funded in this spending bill (incomplete):

  • Central Avenue BRT Corridor Station Development and Enhancements, St. Petersburg, FL; $475,000; Rep. Bill Young
  • AC Transit BRT Corridor, CA; $4,000,000; Sen. Feinstein
  • Bellevue-Redmond BRT, WA; $10,952,330; Sens. Cantwell, Murry