IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

Financing congressional earmarks: Implications for transport policy and planning

Listed author(s):
  • Sciara, Gian-Claudia
Registered author(s):

    This research documents the primary strategies used by the US Congress to fund transportation earmarks from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s. It draws on careful analysis of funding bills and primary and secondary sources including government reports, industry and policy newsletters, scholarly articles, and publicly available data on earmarks. It is also informed by interviews with transportation stakeholders involved with earmarks at federal, state, and regional levels. By detailing how Congress pays for earmarks, I show that earmarks do more to redistribute than add to existing transportation resources, and that the intricacy of Congressional funding maneuvers can make earmarks’ fiscal impacts hard to discern. Several implications follow for transportation policy and practice. First, critiques that earmarks increase federal transportation spending are misplaced. While such claims make it easy to discredit national investment in transportation, skepticism is in order when earmarks are invoked to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Second, earmarks’ true costs are related not to increased deficits but rather to opportunity costs incurred when unplanned earmarks replace other investments, particularly projects identified through regional and state planning or competitive selection by an executive agency. Finally, this work suggests productive directions for future earmark reform, such as limiting earmarks to projects in regional or state plans and making explicit for any earmarks in a bill the funding mechanisms that support them. Such steps could lessen the opportunity costs (and administrative inefficiencies) of earmarks, increase transparency in earmarking, and potentially make the practice less objectionable if used to facilitate passage of the long overdue surface transportation authorization bill.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice.

    Volume (Year): 46 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 8 ()
    Pages: 1328-1342

    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:eee:transa:v:46:y:2012:i:8:p:1328-1342
    DOI: 10.1016/j.tra.2012.05.001
    Contact details of provider: Web page:

    Order Information: Postal:

    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

    in new window

    1. Sciara, Gian-Claudia, 2009. "Planners and the Pork Barrel: Metropolitan Engagement in and Resistance to Congressional Transportation Earmarking," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt2w49616b, University of California Transportation Center.
    2. Hatzopoulou, M. & Miller, E.J., 2009. "Transport policy evaluation in metropolitan areas: The role of modelling in decision-making," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 43(4), pages 323-338, May.
    3. Flyvbjerg, Bent, 2005. "Measuring inaccuracy in travel demand forecasting: methodological considerations regarding ramp up and sampling," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 39(6), pages 522-530, July.
    4. Brian Knight, 2005. "Estimating the Value of Proposal Power," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(5), pages 1639-1652, December.
    5. Mackie, Peter & Preston, John, 1998. "Twenty-one sources of error and bias in transport project appraisal," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 1-7, January.
    6. Brach, Ann & wachs, Martin, 2005. "Earmarking in the U.S. Department of Transportation Research Programs," Institute of Transportation Studies, Research Reports, Working Papers, Proceedings qt9vf8844t, Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Berkeley.
    7. Brach, Ann & Wachs, Martin, 2005. "Earmarking in the US Department of Transportation Research Programs," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 39(6), pages 501-521, July.
    8. Shama Gamkhar & Hamid Ali, 2008. "Political Economy of Grant Allocations: The Case of Federal Highway Demonstration Grants," Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Oxford University Press, vol. 38(1), pages 1-21, Winter.
    9. Cohen, Jeffrey P., 2010. "The broader effects of transportation infrastructure: Spatial econometrics and productivity approaches," Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(3), pages 317-326, May.
    10. Jiwattanakulpaisarn, Piyapong & Noland, Robert B. & Graham, Daniel J., 2010. "Causal linkages between highways and sector-level employment," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 44(4), pages 265-280, May.
    11. Innes, Judith E. & Gruber, Judith, 2005. "Planning Styles in Conflict: The Metropolitan Transportation Commission," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt6pf9k6sk, University of California Transportation Center.
    12. Lem, Lewison Lee, 1997. "Dividing the Federal Pie," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt4kn7q09p, University of California Transportation Center.
    13. Proost, Stef & Dunkerley, Fay & Borger, Bruno De & Gühneman, Astrid & Koskenoja, Pia & Mackie, Peter & Loo, Saskia Van der, 2011. "When are subsidies to trans-European network projects justified?," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 161-170, March.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:transa:v:46:y:2012:i:8:p:1328-1342. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.