Back when I was studying for my Real Estate license my instructor would joke, tongue in cheek, that the members of the water and sewer board volunteered their time out of civic pride. He then went on to explain that most water and sewer boards are made up of contractors, Real Estate developers and speculators. He was driving home the point that those who decide where infrastructure such as water and or sewer lines will go control the development of a community.
The owner of the auto parts company where I worked was looking for a location for a new auto parts store. There were two choices; the first was located by a popular shopping mall, the second was on an undeveloped stretch of highway recently widened to four lanes. He asked me which I thought would be the wiser choice. "There is a lot of traffic by the mall," I answered. The old man was asking, not for our advice but to mentor us as he explained, "The mall property has reached its potential, the rent is high and traffic will never expand there it only recede.
The undeveloped property can be bought less expensively and the potential is large. In ten years there will be subdivisions all around our store and even if the store does not do well the property value will soar. The old man's forecast was correct and the undeveloped stretch of highway was soon absorbed as a part of the town. Sewer lines, new roads and infrastructure will bring always growth.
Growth is a good thing most of the time. Growth with the aim of good community development is a good thing but growth for the sake of growth alone is nothing more than the manipulation of government in the name of greed. As Atlanta swelled to the bursting point in the 1990's developers in Cobb County were limited by a building code to the nature of homes which could be built. In neighboring Gwinnett County there were no such limitations. Apartment communities sprang up on every corner. The school system swelled with non-property tax paying residents, the builders and developers made a bundle and the county was left with the repercussions.
Michele Bachmann is the Congressional Representative for the tiny town of Stillwater Minnesota. Ms. Bachmann as most of us already are aware is an evangelical conservative Republican politician. She has long railed against the evils of big government. She has railed throughout her career against earmarks and wasteful government spending but now, Missy wants a bridge.
Stillwater is a picturesque little town located on the banks of the St. Croix River. It is the oldest town in Minnesota and its colorful frontier past and beautiful period buildings make it a popular tourist destination. The St. Croix River has been designated by Congress as a protected by the National Scenic Rivers Act and maintained by the National Park Service. For 250 miles the waters are pristine and it is the largest protected river environment east of the Mississippi. It is one of the few places in all of the United States where the waters are still pristine. The centerpiece of this picture postcard community is the Stillwater Lift Bridge. The bridge was built and dedicated in 1931 and is also listed as a national historic landmark.
The lift bridge logo's are everywhere, on businesses, tee shirts and company trucks and you could say that the lift bridge defines Stillwater in the same way that the cable cars define San Francisco but Missy wants a bridge. Her plan is to build a new four lane concrete bridge a few miles down river. Her argument is that the lift bridge is only two lanes and is congested. The bridge is only congested during rush hours as Saint Paul commuters try to make their way home to the bedroom communities across the river in Wisconsin where property values are lower.
So Ms. Bachmann's plan is to build a new bridge to help people get out of her district? If only that were all but her plan is to reduce her own home town to just another American town with a by-pass. The projected costs for this new bridge range anywhere from $600 million to $750 million plus the associated costs for the communities on either side of the new bridge of around $100 to $200 million dollars. Now the coup de gras, when the new bridge is completed in seven or so years the state of Wisconsin has already announced that it will discontinue maintenance costs on their half of the lift bridge and tear it down.
It will leave Stillwater with half of a rusting fossil rather than a national historic landmark. The purest sign of corruption is when a politician advocates a path that will directly injure their constituents. This project is just that, helping the few at the expense of the many. Once the new bridge is completed their will be new gas stations and shopping centers and fast food restaurants and they will be the winners. Developers in Wisconsin will try to reignite bedroom community developments. The taxpayers in both states will be on the hook for nearly a billion dollars and Stillwater, Ms. Bachmann's beloved home town will be irreparably damaged.
Seven years is a
long time and experts warn of a flat home building market for a
generation. Rising gas prices may well negate any cost advantage to
living in Wisconsin. Also huge national and state budget deficits
loom and Ms. Bachmann is on board in favor of cuts to all social
programs and she supports Paul Ryan's budget and even cuts to the
military budget but at the same time Missy wants a bridge, a billion
She wants this bridge so badly that she can't wait for environmental studies of the effects the construction of the new bridge might have on the St. Croix River Valley. Nor does she care about the effects of a concrete vanilla bridge might have on the skyline of picturesque Stillwater. She has proposed a congressional wavier of environmental studies and she has maintained that the proposed location for the bridge isn't very attractive anyway.
Growth only for the sake of growth isn't free enterprise, it is the manipulation of government by free enterprise. It is in this case expensive, wasteful and questionable manipulation. If only Ms. Bachman truly believed in letting the free marketplace work she would encourage these commuters to move to her side of the river. To save gas, save commute time and save the lift bridge and save hundreds of millions of dollars. Rising fuel cost in the coming years might have that effect on traffic patterns anyway which will make this bridge program an even larger boondoggle.