The House passed today H.R. 2887, a bill to reauthorize expiring aviation and surface transportation programs for a few months.

Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK) is expected to hold up the bill in the Senate because of something called Transportation Enhancements (TE) included in the legislation. TE is a program run by the Department of Transportation to force states to build bike paths, “highway beautification,” and transportation museums.

In the past, federal funds have been used by states to build animal highways for salamanders, frogs, and turtles. And liberals say there is little waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government. In defense of the states, they are forced—as a condition of receiving money to build and repair actual highways for people—to spend about 10 percent of all federally received funds on such silly enhancement projects.

Coburn is expected to offer legislation that would allow states to op out of the TE mandates that cost the taxpayer $928 million in fiscal year 2011. Coburn has documented some egregious examples of TE waste from past years:

  • Monkton, Vermont—$150,000 (2010): The Monkton Conservation Commission received $150,000 in federal grant money to build a “critter crossing” to save the lives of thousands of migrating salamanders and other amphibians that would otherwise be slaughtered by vehicle traffic on a major roadway. Thousands of blue- and yellow-spotted salamanders, frogs, and other amphibians spend the winter months in the rocky uplands near Monkton but must return to low-lying wetlands in order to reproduce. To travel between these two areas, the salamanders must cross the heavily traveled Monkton-Vergennes Road.
  • Lake Jackson, Florida—$3.4 million (2009): Why did the turtle cross the road? To get to the other side of a stimulus project. The Florida Department of Transportation is planning to spend $3.4 million in stimulus cash for a wildlife crossing, otherwise known as an “eco-passage.” It will serve as an underground wildlife road-crossing for turtles and other animals that live in Lake Jackson, Florida. When a local columnist described this project to a friend, he said, “FSU [Florida State University] is talking about laying off 200 people and we’re protecting turtles?”

The Department of Transportation forces states to divert money from highway projects to build bike paths, welcome centers, and archaeological planning. The 12 categories of projects include:

  • Pedestrian and bicycle facilities;
  • Pedestrian and bicycle safety and education activities;
  • Buying scenic or historic easements and sites;
  • Tourist and welcome centers; and
  • Landscaping and scenic beautification.

If you see some beautiful plants while driving on your local highway, please make sure to enjoy the view, because you probably paid for those plants. Clearly, the TE program should be eliminated as a means to cut into the estimated $14.5 trillion in accumulated debt of our nation. At a minimum, politicians in Washington should cut programs for salamanders, frogs, and turtles to prove that they are capable of cutting wasteful government spending.