Robert Poole, director of transportation at Reason Foundation, exposes some of the pork spending projects the nation’s mayors want to spend the infrastructure bonanza on (via WSJ):

On Monday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors went to Capitol Hill to ask for a handout, or as they put it: “We are reporting that in 427 cities of all sizes in all regions of the country, a total of 11,391 infrastructure projects are ‘ready to go.’ These projects represent an infrastructure investment of $73,163,299,303 that would be capable of producing an estimated 847,641 jobs in 2009 and 2010.”

A wish list that is 11,391 projects strong! What vital infrastructure projects would cash-strapped taxpayers get for their $73 billion? Here’s a sampling:

– Hercules, Calif., wants $2.5 million in hard-earned taxpayer money for a “Waterfront Duck Pond Park,” and another $200,000 for a dog park.

– Euless, Texas, wants $15 million for the Midway Park Family Life Center, which, you’ll be glad to note, includes both a senior center and aquatic facility.

– Natchez, Miss., “needs” a new $9.5 million sports complex “which would allow our city to host major regional and national sports tournaments.”

– Henderson, Nev., is asking for $20 million to help “develop a 60 acre multi-use sports field complex.”

– Brigham City, Utah, wants $15 million for a sports park.

– Arlington, Texas, needs $4 million to expand its tennis center.

– Miami, Fla., needs $15 million for a “Moore Park Community Center, Tennis Center and Day Care” facility. The city is also desperate for $3.6 million to build a covered basketball court and a new tennis court at Robert King High Park. Then there’s the $94 million Orange Bowl parking garage you are being asked to pay for.

– La Porte, Texas, wants $7.6 million for a “Life Style Center.” And Oakland, Calif., needs $1 million for Fruitvale Latino Cultural and Performing Arts Center.

I’m sure many of these are fine projects, but it seems to me they are projects that should be funded by local government. If the local governments can’t afford them, they should wait. If the infrastructure spending is intended to be a long term investment in the nation’s infrastructure (and it should), they should be projects that improve the efficiency of the economy as a whole. These projects do not fit that bill. As Mr. Poole points out, there are plenty of projects that would achieve that goal:

Hartgen’s study showed we could eliminate severe congestion in all of the nation’s urban areas for $21 billion a year — less than we are spending on transportation today, and $52 billion less than the mayors just asked for. And by investing in the right projects we’d save 7.7 billion hours each year.

Reducing traffic congestion, which costs Americans well over $63 billion a year in wasted time and fuel, should be a primary criterion for any transportation project that is funded. Our economy depends on it.

Today, over 80% of all goods (by value) in this country are shipped by truck. Time is money. A national network of truck-only toll lanes would enable truckers to carry more goods, faster. In our 21st century economy, spurred by companies like Amazon.com, Apple and FedEx, truck lanes would do more for the economy than any cultural or aquatic center. And, perhaps most notably, taxpayers wouldn’t have to foot the bill alone. The private sector would pay to build the truck lanes in many major urban areas, recouping their money by charging tolls.

There is good evidence that well-targeted additions of capacity to congested urban freeway systems and truck-heavy interstate corridors would not merely have benefits greater than costs but could achieve commercial rates of return.

I believe upgrading the infrastructure of our nation is an important goal, but just spending money for the sake of spending money is not what is needed. We need a real return on these investments. Let’s hope Congress is smart about what gets funded.