Friday, February 20, 2009

I Can't Dig It

“Big Ed” Rendell, the thuggish governor of Pennsylvania, has pronounced the North Shore Connector, Pittsburgh's answer to Boston's Big Dig, a “tragic mistake”. Gosh, my ears had barely stopped ringing from the clink of all the champagne glasses state and local politicians had used to toast the infusion of taxpayers' money to support this pet rock. And of course, the trajectory of the project is a classic case. It started with money that the local transportation czars had to either “use or lose”. It was something no one really wanted – a “tunnel to nowhere”, as it's often called – but guess what, it created JOBS! Yes, the paramount, and in fact only, criterion for the worth of a civic, taxpayer-funded program. (Never mind that most of the best-paying jobs on the project were taken by guys from Japan who operate the tunneling machine.) So “dig we must”, and the next stage – entirely predictable – was “unforeseen difficulties”, and added expenses, and some things mysteriously costing a lot more than had been projected, and... well, let's just say the project has encountered some “cost overrun” issues. And that was _before_ the economic meltdown. Now that the great teat of the American economy is being redirected to other needy souls, the connector project has been caught with its pants down, and great is the weeping and moaning, and the holding hostage of this fine project contingent on additional handouts – from anywhere they can be obtained. And our governor, who is a Macy's Parade balloon version of Edward G. Robinson in “Little Caesar”, is disavowing all knowledge and denying all responsibility.

The fact that this problem has descended to pure farce is not entirely the fault of the wildly distorted priorities that were involved in its initiation, or of the economic meltdown; it's really a combination of the two. Without the meltdown, the project might have proceeded at full speed, albeit with the load of criticism that has been attached to it from Day One. Like the Big Dig, it might have gotten in under the wire, and people would eventually have forgotten how controversial it all was (think "Space Shuttle", for example, or "Hubble Telescope"). But the funny thing about economic crises is that they tend to shine a blinding light into what were meant to remain dark corners – of political corruption, favortism, and cronyism. And this does not mean that the project is finished, kaput, dead meat, road kill, history. It will undoubtedly continue to limp along, throwing good money after bad, until some sort of highly-truncated “final product” is produced, at which time the contractors will go home rich and happy, the politicians will disavow any involvement (as Big Ed is already doing), and the voters will... well, do what they always do, develop a case of amnesia. And with any luck, I'll be able to ride the “T” all the way from my place to Pirates games. JUST KIDDING!

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