And then there are the earmarks that just fade away 

General Douglas MacArthur famously said that “old soldiers don’t die, they just fade away.” Something similar apparently happens to congressional earmarks, too, according to an investigative research project by the Sunlight Foundation’s Reporting Group.

Nearly $120 million in earmarks approved over the years by Congress for projects to be overseen by the Federal Transit Administration sat unused and lapsed before being spent, according to documents SFRG obtained using the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Bill Allison, a veteran investigative reporter with whom I am privileged to work on the Database 101 Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting (CARR) boot camps at the National Press Club, heads the SFRG.

Sunlight’s Lisa Chiu reports that the top 10 expired earmarks included:

* $19.6 million for a proposed New Starts light rail system by the Triangle Transit Authority in North Carolina that which expired in 2008.

* Nearly $10 million to assist in constructing Renaissance Square in Rochester, N.Y., that would have included a performing arts center, a college satellite campus and a bus terminal. The project was canceled in 2009.

* $4.9 million for a proposed commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit that expired in 2008.

* $4 million for a Trans-Hudson Midtown Corridor Study for New Jersey Transit.

* $3.9 million Detroit Center City Loop.

* $3.9 million for the Schuylkill Valley Metro, a proposed railway that would have linked Philadelphia with Reading, Pa., that expired in 2008.

* $3.4 million for the Rhode Island Integrated Commuter Rail Project.

* $2.8 million for an extension of the Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to Montclair in Southern California.

* $2.8 million for a downtown transit center in Indianapolis.

* Nearly $2.5 million for a public bus transfer and parking facility at the Billings Clinic in Montana.

Transportation appropriations have long been among the most earmarked measures in Congress. The nearly $120 million in lapsed earmarks found by Sunlight represents a tiny portion of the $24 billion in earmarks included among the 150 approved by Congress in 2006 and 2007 under the e Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users measure.

But don’t think that just because the bureaucrats at FTA never got around the spending the money for those earmarks that the funds somehow end up back in the Treasury. Chiu says the Department of Transportation, which includes FTA, plans to spend the money anyway:

“In the coming months, the Transportation Department will allocate the funds for these lapsed earmarks to other projects that it deems appropriate. It is the first time that allocations for these discretionary funds from lapsed SAFETEA-LU earmarks will take place.

“The funds for those unrealized projects will be combined with other unallocated funds and awarded to urban circulator systems, bus livability initiative improvement grants, bus and bus facilities, and other discretionary livability programs. The total amount of unallocated resources, which includes lapsed earmarks, that will be distributed is over $1 billion.”

For Chiu’s full report, go here.

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Mark Tapscott

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