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January 28th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

A small town's big bridge called a stimulus waste

Editor's Note: All week, CNN examines the stimulus and looks at one of the greatest areas of concern for Americans: the economy. Today, our Christine Romans finds out why a bridge that was built to make residents safe is now being called a waste of their money. Friday on American Morning, our Gerri Willis has the story of one man in Ohio who says the stimulus saved his family from losing everything and is giving them hope for the future.

By Christine Romans and Julian Cummings, CNN

Thedford, Nebraska (CNN) – Sixty to eighty trains rumble through this ranching town in the Nebraska sand hills every day. The roar of the coal cars and the scream of the whistle and the wait at the crossing for the train to pass are a way of life.

An almost $7 million coal bridge will change that. Instead of waiting for 30 seconds to 3 minutes for a train to pass, cars will now pass over the railroad tracks on a massive bridge. Since this is a town of just 168 people, the bridge is the largest per-capita stimulus project in the state.

So how does Thedford feel about its stimulus money?

"We haven’t seen any money. Not yet," says Judy Taylor, Thomas County treasurer and Thedford town chairman.

Some long-time residents openly scoff at the title of biggest per-capita recipients of stimulus dollars in the state.

Marv Blauvelt was born and raised in this town. He says the bridge is a waste.

"Well, really in all honesty we don't know what the point is, except some design engineer in Lincoln decided that this is what needed to be done and they said it would take ten to fifteen years to make it happen. Well it happened a lot quicker than that because of the stimulus," said Blauvelt.

The project was indeed "shovel ready," sitting on the books just waiting for funding. When the stimulus was passed, the process moved quickly and construction began last summer on Thedford's new bridge.

Learn more about Thedford's history Video

Nebraska Department of Roads Director Monty Fredrickson says the crossing was a traffic and safety issue.

"The conflict between the rail and the highway is an important feature both from a safety aspect, continuity, mobility and especially emergency services," said Frederickson.

And he defended the project, saying it would indeed stimulate the economy.

"Any project that we put on the street with stimulus money is going to create jobs, and since stimulus money is extra money, then while we're doing our regular program we'll spend the extra stimulus money and thereby getting more jobs," he told CNN.

Those jobs went to the lowest bidder for the bridge, Colorado-based Ames Construction. A company spokesperson said about 20 existing employees worked on the bridge, brought in from Denver to work on the project.

Only a few locals were hired and have since been laid off.

"I didn't gain anything from it except a part time job for a couple of months. That's it," said Trina Mintel.

Mintel was one of those workers.

"I think it's already happened and gone, you know. When they come back to pour the final you know road that might take a couple of weeks," she said.

If not jobs, then what did Thedford gain for the title of biggest per-capita spending in Nebraska?

Thedford did see some money infused into the town from the out of state construction workers staying in town.

"The filling stations might have sold gas and food. And our motel, our small motel was full. Our large motel got some. And our grocery store probably got a little bit of revenue, but we didn't see a lot," said Town Chairman Judy Taylor.

Jobs aside, most people here just don't see the point of the bridge that, when completed, will take drivers over and around tracks they have waited at for years.

"The amount of time that its take you to go around the loop to get back to the highway is probably the same amount of time you would have sat and waited for the train to go by," said Mike Hodges, who owns the local Conoco service station.

The project cut his property in two.

"It was a no-choice deal, I mean they had their mind made up, what they were gonna do, how they were gonna do it. They asked everybody's opinion, but it didn't matter," said Hodges, whose repair garage overlooks the bridge now.

One the other side of the crossing, Marv Blauvelt still wants to know how stimulus money landed in his front yard.

"We just feel like they sold us down the river really," said Blauvelt.

Maybe not a river, but a railroad.

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Complete coverage: The Stimulus Project

Filed under: Economy • The Stimulus Project
soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. Another Thedford Resident

    I live in this little town and there is some things to be said. This bridge does NOT benefit our restaurants motels gas stations because the bridge goes in the oppisite direction. As for those other things that were mentioned above like laundromats and drugstores...... WHAT LAUNDROMATS AND DRUGSTORES?! All we have is 1 sheriff for the whole county that consists of 3 towns. Another thing, there were no accidents or deaths by this railroad UNTIL this bridge was built! And whoever said to get your facts straight, they are totally right! and to the "logical Nebraskan," who are you to say way to be narrow minded? That is our lifestyle and how we make our living. And due ot the bridge, they have had to close the road and they just went around to the other crossing and down the back road! Did you ever think there would be another way around? But when they constructed the bridge, they sometimes closed that crossing even though it was on the other side of town. This interupted with our educatation because ALMOST ALL students come through that intersection and it was a major setback somedays. Some students even had to go through pastures just to get to school on time. I agree with my neighbor up above. It is needed...... just not here.

    February 6, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  2. Gil Pollock

    In my opinion most of the comments except the one from the Thedford resident missed the point. There is no proper prioritizing of need vs. available funds. When no prioritizing is done then there is waste. With 1/7th of that amount of funding my business could and would have created a minimum of 33 jobs and perhaps as many as 50. Unfortunately, we are not a public construction project company but a private business. However, we are "shovel ready" to expand our product / service to the market. But because of the manor in which the stimulus is structured and written small private business is not able to participate in the government’s stimulus programs unless their business involves public projects.

    The proposed tax incentives are not the answer for small business – cash infusion is what is needed, whether this is in the form of debt or equity funding. When a report such as this appears then the frustration level continues to increase among the American people. So do not “shoot” the messenger – in the case Christine Roman for a report that demonstrates the lack of efficiency, improper fiduciary and fiscal responsibility of government officials. CNN has as a general rule demonstrated the most balanced reporting of the all news media.

    We should take our frustrations out on the Politicians and exercise our power by voting out of office all incumbents no matter what their party affiliation. They are the reason for the conditions that exist today. But this has not happened overnight or in the short term. The Congress has been in a self-serving mode for more than 10 years. If we as the American people do not exercise our voice through our vote then we will continue to see the mismanagement of our country because we are the only ones who can hold politicians accountable.


    Gil Pollock

    February 2, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  3. Thedford Resident

    I have read the bogs. I am not surprised at most of the comments. Someone said to just block the crossing adn go to the next overpass. SURE! That would be about 100 miles to the west in Alliance or 120 miles to the East in Grand Island. Unless of course you count the viaduct about 4 miles out of town to the west. Course you may need a boat or another BRIDGE to cross the river...maybe even more than once.

    I DARE EVERYONE to take a look at a map. YES we are a main thoroughfare from one interstate to another and the straight shot from Canada to Mexico. But this was waste. Something that too many seem to take for granted anymore because too many have a "Good reason" for spending what they don't have.

    I hope the south Dakota family that lost their loved one to the retaining wall understands. He may have survived if the wall wasn't there. Of course on the off chance he could have crashed into a train, but at that time, there wasn't one on the tracks!

    As for the statement by Mr. Wes Ketcham...well we aren't so backwoodsy that we have to think about this for the next several years before we accept it. We have all accepted it.

    There are safety measures that in place that most of thought wer ridiculous. However, the amount of traffic that crosses their daily is huge especially during the summer months, harvesting, and with the snowbirds flying north and south. I am sure that hte truckers and others who use this road will feel safer as they traverse somewhere other than across the tracks.

    For most of us in THEDFORD we realize that although a few benefitted from this construction, that there are areas much more in need of safety....such as the towns and cities where rail deaths occur more frequently than just once! None of us are upset about the income that some were able to earn with the workers here or from the temp jobs. BUT there are other places that need something like this more than we did and wish that they would have gotten it. Willt his bring more traffic and tourism through this community? I doubt it.

    This news broadcast was about wasteful spending. Perhaps this wasn't a waste, but perhaps instead was just done at the wrong crossing

    January 29, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  4. Dale Porter Thiessen

    "5. Safety: Why no mention of how many accidents/near misses?"

    January 29, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  5. Wes Ketchem

    Many bloggers asked who makes these decisions. Each state has a department that makes the final decision. Nebraska has the Department of Roads. I blogged earlier that FRA maintains data that may support the decisions made. The state and railroad may also maintain some date to support their decision. There are many reasons for doing a project and most times disrupt the people near the project. An overpass or underpass is less restrictive to transporting hazmat for example. The railroad I worked for was asked by our Dept of Highways for a wish list. That and any data, to name a few were, near misses, fatalities, line of sight, and noise pollution. This was about the only input we had on final decision.

    Looking on ® this town has four or five crossings or about one crossing for every 40 people. One train could block all crossing and during rail maintenance times disrupts the local community more.

    I hope that some employee from the Nebraska DOR will chime in and put this project to rest. I am sure they have weighted all the criteria and made a good decision.

    I also understand the dismay of the local community. I hope that they will accept it very soon.

    January 29, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  6. A Logical Nebraskan

    An absolutely unbelievable piece of reporting by CNN. Could you have made it any worse? I have been to Thedford several times before and am familiar with the area. I bet the owners of the Arrowhead Motel and Stub's enjoyed the business while they had it. The area resident that was interviewed said the $7M bridge would "buy a lot of cattle". Great job there-don't make yourself look narrow-minded.
    What would the residents of the town do if a gas truck got hit by a train at the crossing? What happens if the train derails and blocks the crossing for at least 24 hours? Did you people ever think of that? Put the safety of others that travel through your town in place of your own selfish motives!
    And to say that the job was awarded to an out-state contractor, do you know what it takes to build a bridge? Not too many contractors in the area have the equipment and know-how to PROPERLY build a bridge. The tragic fact of road construction is that the contractors have to go where the projects are, the projects won't come to them. I imagine that the locals that were hired probably were given the chance to travel with Ames to their next project, but they didn't want to leave their "cushy" lifestyle in Thedford, NE.

    January 29, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  7. Joe

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, perfec evidence of a corrupt system. this is a town of less than 200 people that have been living there how long without a bridge? plenty of cities survive just fine with RR stopsigns and gates (i live in a community of almost 100,000 people, and EVERY rr crossing in the town is a regular crossing, no bridge. thatmoney could have gone to the people and guess what they would have done with it. PAID OFF THEIR BILLS! thats what this WHOLE stimulus should have been. the government officials are ALL crooks, how many billions have been paid tothe banks? automakers? i did some number crunching, and with as much money has been used to "stimulate" the economy you could have given every man and woman over the age of 18 with which they would put that money back into the economy, and possibly paid their bills. i understand some bailouts to keep things going, but im sorry, 80,000,000,000 dollars (thats a lot of zeros) to bail out big business? moral to this story, dont screw up. pay your execs less money, pay your lower lvl workers more, and stop being greedy. thats is the reason for this entire recesson is greed. This issue is the government's ultimate fail. DONT LET THEM FOOL YOU WASHINGTON IS NOTHING BUT A BUNCH OF CRIMINALS.

    January 29, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  8. Chicago jerz girl

    The stimulus story this morning about the bridge built for Thedford, a town of 168 people, left out a critical piece of nfomration. Was the road where the bridge was built a state or federal highway? If so, avoiding the railroad crossing benefits far more than the 168 people in the town. But the story didn't say whether the bridge was for a state highway, a county or town road. Equating every stimulus project on a per capita expenditure basis is a really naive way of judging these projects. All in all, not a good piece of reporting.

    January 28, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  9. Helen

    I agree that the Thedford segment was biased and negative. Highway 83 is certainly a well used north/sount route for commercial and other traffic. Besides the benefits to local business that others have mentioned, the project used concrete and gravel, the RV campgrounds, and local office rental. The 2-3 people noted that had temporary jobs is underreported. There were at least three local flaggers and two equipment operators. The lives the viaduct may save could be the locals that drive around the cross arms. I'm sure that buying cattle are not on the list for the use of stimulus funds. I'm pleased to report that not all Thedford residents are so negative.

    January 28, 2010 at 7:31 pm |
  10. Sandhiller from Thedford

    Interestingly enough, many have asked about accidents at this crossing. Well as a resident of this little tiny town, I can tell you that the only accident that anyone seems to know about is the Fatality that occurred AFTER THE WALL of the BRIDGE was erected. That is it.

    Yes there are at least 60 to 80 trains that roll through here on a daily basis, except perhaps some weekends when things seem to slow down or when there are delays further up or down the track line. Two long, one short and one long whistle anounce their presence as they sail through town.

    As far as the guy who doubts we have a hotel, actually we have two. One a small Mom and Pop operation and another a larger 2 story motel. We also have a year round restaurant and another small summer only cafe. We have a bar, a post office, photography studio, art gallery, hair dressers, lumber yard, schools and ranchers and cowboys galore. There are several local artists who also have their own studios in the country or neighboring small towns. We may be few in number but we are proud of our heritage and are sick when we see wasteful spending. Find a rancher that can't manage his money and you will find a broke rancher!

    Yes I realize that this was supposed to be a safety project as well as a stimulus project. It is hard to argue those two points. However, I think there are several more "DANGEROUS" places that could have better used this stimulus money. These stimulus monies were supposed to help the local economies and the states to which monies were used, at least that is what most of us were told. Granted Colorado is a state. But very little of the monies stayed locally or even within the state boundaries. This is the point that we took to heart.

    Yes there were some who were able to have short part time jobs. Those individuals were happy to have the job even if for a short time.

    I am just glad that the safety of this project has lead to the only crossing death anyone in the area knows about. I am very happy that the local businesses got the business they received. Take out a map and find THEDFORD, NEBRASKA. People are few and far between as are towns.
    If you are ever traveling through, you'll see the bridge. Stop in and have a conversaton with a few of the locals. You'll soon understand that we aren't selfish individuals. We believe in living within your means.

    January 28, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  11. kc

    America has forgotten it's heritage. Previous generations knew that railroad right of way was private property and grade crossings were a privlege, not a right. Railroads have probably regretted that first day they allowed the public to cross their tracks at a grade crossing. It would have been much cheaper to just close a grade crossing with this much traffic and let the driving public drive to a location where a bridge across the tracks already existed.
    Unit coal trains are close to a mile long, to pass in 30 seconds, the train would have to be traveling 120 miles an hour. No civilized country has grade crossings on tracks with that kind of train speed, for safety rails and roads have to be separated. I suspect that average train speed is closer to 20 miles an hour and some trains take longer than 3 minutes to pass (the video showed non-coal trains). I have waited next to a Southern State capital for over 30 minutes for a train to pass and clear a grade crossing. If that mainline had 80 trains a day, it would be impossible to cross the tracks safely.
    In the interest of public safety, the town could have been given a choice, build the bridge or close the grade crossing. Fortunately, this is a state highway and the state, not 168 townsfolk, should make the decision on what is good for commerce and public safety in Nebraska.

    January 28, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  12. Diane Swible

    How about the foot bridge that the stimulus money will be put in for the New England Patriots?

    All of this money should be used wisely like unemployement benefits, healthcare costs, schools.

    What a waste of money.

    President Obama really needs to take a closer look to where all this money is going.

    January 28, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  13. CLong

    As Gary, one of the folks pointed out, this article is woefully incomplete in describing the full effect of the stimulus funds used to build the bridge, thus giving a false picture of the value of the construction project. You all can do better.

    January 28, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  14. Brian

    I like to say to all those support of building a $7M bridge in town of 168 people as a part of stimulating economy. That $7M is burrowed money from Chinese, more likely. Instead let town people decide how to use $$ WISELY. If they don't need to build one, let other people use $$ in good use. Even other people don't want it, then less debt.
    How long can we burrow & spend?

    January 28, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  15. abc

    Obama is not the guy to save us

    January 28, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  16. The Downer

    The Florida high speed rail project between Tampa and Orlando will be a HUGE waste just like this project. Who are the idiots coming up with these plans? If anything is to be done in Florida, it should be to expand the rail system in Miami or create one in Tampa. This kind of wasteful spending is infuriating.

    January 28, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  17. DR

    This is an example of biased reporting coming from CNN. What happened to journalism? I would expect this from FOX, not CNN. I guess the network is just going for ratings not providing intelligent reporting.

    January 28, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  18. trueblue

    Deficit of trust. No wonder American's don't trust the Government. What a waste of our hard earned money.

    January 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  19. CMYKD

    You morons are grasping at straws. The point of this story is that the stimulus money is being spent in an idiotic manor. There needs to be better ideas than this.

    January 28, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  20. Mitchell

    In reading the comments on this page it seems that you are getting ripped for reporting the truth. Could these comments be from those within the DNC that never saw a spending or wastful project they didn't like. Is this what they call serial bloggers that are used to go on defense when something is looked into and found really messed up.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  21. Dan

    I have to agree with Wes Ketchem: this may not benefit the town much, but those coal trains, likely hauling Gillette field coal from Wyoming to plants in the East, many of which need at least one of those trains EVERY DAY to keep pumping out the power.

    So, while this may have been costly, I imagine the cost of one serious train accident would be much greater. Like Wes said, in terms of accident prevention, this project makes sense.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  22. Philip Mountbatten

    They probably could have made better use of the $7 million if they had installed proper airport security at their airport to protect the non-existent customers from non-existent terrorists, thus relieving themselves of doing the environmental assessment for the non-existent bridge, which, by the way, if it had been done properly, would have not met all the criteria set forth which would have made it an environmental liability primarily on account of the non-existent global warming but might have enabled them to create carbon credits to be used at the soon to be non-existent world bank.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  23. SF

    I despise criticism over progress. This new works project may not be absolutely necessary right now, but it may foster growth in the area. This country spends too much time finding any reason to be critical rather than praising progress and addressing needs. I miss the positivity and patriotism that filled this country 30 odd years ago.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  24. Mary

    I too have stayed in Thedford. The people I talked to at that time (pre-stimulus) did not want the bridge. Perhaps they should have been asked whether the construction was worth the negative impact on their community. Perhaps there was another community that would have welcomed the construction and needed the dollars. Who decided where these dollars should go?

    January 28, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  25. Sandinmyshoes

    I am not normally a person who blogs, bu I can't let this one pass. I know the Sandhills of Nebraska very well and as the old saying goes; "don't judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes", amply applies to this stimulus segment. Those of you who come from densely populated areas can't even begin to understand why the people of Thedford and Thomas County, as a whole, did not want or need this overpass. Yes, this "overpass" has been in the works for years and don't let the railroad fool you, they were the ones that were pushing for it; even though they claim they did not lobby for it. Safety: there has never been a fatality at that intersection/railroad crossing (except for the very first one in October, 2009, when someone ran the stop sign and hit the retaining wall that was built for the overpass). Additionaly, there has been minimal recordings of accidents there. Was this the most important project in Nebraska? Well, after traveling across the state of Nebraska on a fairly regular basis, the roads in our fair state are getting pathetic. Couldn't stimulus money have been used as a whole for improving the condition of road surfaces, especially when we had heard earlier this year that the Nebraska Roads Department was out of money! Wouldn't that overpass have benefited another community in Nebraska that is in need of having some kind of access to its hospital because all roads leading to the hospital have to cross railroad tracks?

    Someone commented that Mr. Blauvelt got paid for his ground. Yes, he did, but he was paid what the state was willing to pay him, not what his ground was worth. If he had not agreed to take what they offered him, the state would have just played their trump card with eminent domain, condemning his ground and taking it from him anyway! Also, that same person stated that the local people had no employment before the bridge was started. Do you think this little community has been sitting there living off unemployment just waiting fort the bridge to employ people? Thomas County has zero unemployment. When this overpass came in, there were very few people who were available to hold those positions as flag people, etc. because most everyone that needed to work was already employed and for $10/hr. people could not afford to drive from 30 to 60 miles away to hold those positions.

    Granted the businesses in Thedford did benefit economically from the people who came there to build the overpass, but you also have to understand that Thedford has only two gas stations, one grocery store, one law enforcement personnel, and the fire and rescue
    departments are strictly volunteers (no laundromats, drug stores, SUPER markets, etc.) If you look at it from that perspective, you might say that this overpass taxed this small community by bringing in more people to a community that was limited with resources.

    As a final comment, don't condemn this small community for their view of the overpass and stimulus money. Thery were told when CNN first contacted them that people across the US were upset that one VERY SMALL community received 7 million in stimulus money. CNN just gave them the opportunity to express that it WAS NOT their wish to receive that money or the overpass.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  26. Dave

    CNN.....why don't you do a show on how many jobs the '01 and '03 tax cuts created and where those jobs are now? I thought those tax cuts were supposed to create jobs and stimulate the economy, that was the justification for adding trillions of dollars to the national debit via tax cuts with no comparable cuts in spending.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  27. Terry

    I saw earlier this week where a couple Senators were complaining about the way some stimulus money was being "wasted". Two of the items they listed were, a replica train tourist park in Nevada and 2 rest-stops in Oklahoma that had internet access. These may sound like trivial projects, but the fact is these are the types of projects that stimulus money should be used for. They create jobs for the initial planning and construction and also jobs related to the maintenance and operation of these facilities once they are constructed. The comedian Lewis Black has an old routine about spending money on "A big f-ing thing" and selling "Big f-ing thing t-shirts" to jump start the economy. It's funny but true.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  28. andre jonhson

    I was little disappointed in the way CNN reported on the use of Stimilus money.A good report would reflect both sides ,Good and Bad.
    Lately i have the feeling that CNN is trying to screw down president Obama.Make sure you stay fair and the number one leader in News as you guys like to mention .

    January 28, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  29. richp the poconos

    Had the same thing happen here in the Pocono's of Pa, three new schools, they got a Texas company that built them, brought in all the workers from Tx and Ok, all the supplies, materials, the works, Not one local hired to work on any of the schools. We also paid more per square foot than it would cost to build in Manhattan using union labor and NY prices.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  30. Thedford Resident

    As a resident of Thedford, there has been a lot of turmoil over this! The one sided comments do prove what didn't go right and isn't fair and there wasn't a lot of choice for these land owners. As for jobs attributing to the project, we had a few locals (meaning Thedford residents or within 45 mile radius) that did acquire a position with Ames Construction. Since then, they have been laid off so it was short lived and now these ex-employees are left looking for other jobs. We did see some profits with the small local motel, gas stations and maybe the grocery store. Most of the local employees hired, traveled home at night and stayed at their own homes. This left the existing 20 workers from Ames that did stay in a motel. Our telephone company saw some short business from it too. With all the cement poured and dirt work done, our local Sand/Gravel companies saw very little business. As for the railroad side of things, I do understand that to them, it seems like a safety issue. In the history of that intersection, there has not been (to my knowledge) any train/car accidents. The most recent death came to a man that went through the intersection and hit the underside of the overpass head on. We as residents see other safety issues other then "trains" after living there our whole life. The concerns of travelors falling asleep and not making the big turn. The concerns of them losing their brakes and going through the intersection which could possibly land them out on the train tracks. UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE DESIGN, DON'T MAKE ANY JUDGEMENTS!!!!! There is not way to reroute the railroad. It just wouldn't be possible. It runs East and West and eventually would still have to go across Highway 83. Our little town has been undistrubed for many many years. Why now and why this? The railroad crossing has adaquate alerts/alarms as to when the trains are coming. They blow their horns. Before the bridge, you had an open view of the valley where you could see the trains coming and going. Now, you pull up to the crossing from the south and all you see if a cement wall.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  31. Bobby Yarush / Bagram,Afghanistan

    Annual bugets... stimulus... regardless what you wish to call it... States have no incentive to save or to moderate spending... because its a "Use It" or "Lose It" situation. If they get this much to spend.. they better spend it all... at any cost... or they wont get any next budget year.... so no incentive to bargin... no incentive to barter... no incentive to save.... Its a pretty useless system we have when it comes to dishing out the money to the States.

    January 28, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  32. F Robinson

    Thanks for providing info on the permanency of the jobs related to the project. THAT IS THE 2nd MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THESE INVESTIGATIONS (and had been missing)!!!!
    First most important of course is cost v. benefit of the project itself

    January 28, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  33. MITCH

    how could this bridge do anything but stimulate the economy?
    Sounds like some people have some other agenda in mind.
    We spent billions to bomb Iraq, couldnt we spend a little
    on an American town for once?
    Where do you think that money came from anyway?

    January 28, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  34. T

    What most people dont realize is that 90% of the stimulus jobs were projects already on the books to be built. I work in the public sector and when the government said we got stimulus money we had 90 days to get a contract signed. This process normally takes 18-24 months. So all we did was take existing projects and move up the build dates. Most people think of the contractors when they hear stimulus money. What about the people who sit behind a desk and design this stuff? It is a real head ache to get a project ready in 90 days. But alot of money went to the state governments to prepare these projects. They kept alot of people employed that could have been layed off due to budget cuts. now we have the money to keep people on the job, and design more future projects. Just cause a job is shovel ready doesnt mean you actually have to use a shovel.

    January 28, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  35. Rob

    I am not sure what to think of this one, while I agree, it did boost the economy by giving the folks from Colorado jobs. However, the fact that the only thing the bridge did was get you over the tracks and the same amount of time to wait on a train.
    My personal opinion is they could have used this money in a better way. They could have used it for families who need it instead of a cement bridge that in a few years time, is going to have issues and this town will have to pay to fix them. Is the going to be stimulous for that??? I am sure fixing a bridge costs alot more than fixing a blinking railroad sign that would have been there to stop cars..... I could keep going but won't!

    January 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  36. President Obama

    My fellow americans I promise I will stop the spread of superaids. And see to it that every small town has a big bridge.

    January 28, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  37. ed

    Trains and cars don't get along. Never have, never will. Beyond the safety, I know I would not want to be in the ambulance stuck at the railroad crossing waiting for the train. Short sighted to reflect on the past without implications for the future. Infrastructure attracts business. Always has, always will. To make a judgement call on this as a waste is premature.

    January 28, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  38. Marsha Millard

    A town of 160 probably doesn't need a bridge even if 200 trains a day go by. If there were safety issues, meaning significant amount of accidents occurring, I'd think the townspeople would be the ones screaming for the bridge; with just 160 people, they'd notice a thing like that... Instead, they got a bridge and elsewhere where a large number of accidents DO occur did not. Yes, our tax dollars at work people!!!!

    January 28, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  39. Shawn

    These reporters are doing a fine job in pointing these expenditures out, but they aren't doing the full job.

    Why don't they go talk to the company that designed the bridge? You'll be more likely to find your fat cats there. People who saw the stimulus monies as a way to put cookies in the cookie jar, and immediately stick their hands in for a treat.

    January 28, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  40. Gary H.

    Seven million is small change for infrastructure projects. California is building a six billion dollar bridge, and a lot of that money is going to China. At least most of the money for this little overpass stays in the US economy.

    You could probably find an argument over practically every little road improvement anywhere in the US. That people would question this one is not big news.

    January 28, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  41. Mark

    This is a perfect example of where the stimulus money is being wasted. When I think of improving our infrastructure, I think of rebuilding heavily trafficked roads and bridges. Here in Connecticut, our government did just that...almost. One of out local highways, the Merritt Parkway was definitely in need of some repairs, mainly to potholes and overlying bridges. Well, our government decided that instead of fixing these bridges (many built circa 1940's) that felt that it was more important to cut down trees along the side of the highway. Not only did they cut the trees down, but in many areas, they didn't even clean up the debris. I would like someone from the gvernment to explain to me why they needed to cut down trees instead of fixing potholes.

    January 28, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  42. Travis

    ...if that bridge saves the loss of one human life, the $7 Million was well spent.

    ...stimulus money for all of us, not just this small town. I'm sure the company from Denver was glad to have work to give to their employees.

    January 28, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  43. harley

    please ..this project was in the works before obama even took office...get your facts straight

    January 28, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  44. td

    I find the conculsion of "waste" based on the one writer's listing of 7 questions interesting. It must have been based on the CNN report. Had the journalists involved been true journalists, they would have been more diligent in their investigation and had more factual information in their reporting.
    For what it's worth, an answer to part of question 5 can easily be obtained by anyone, at Shame on CNN for not spending the 3 or 4 minutes it took me to get the following statistics: Last year, there were 8 deaths in Nebraska resulting from "highway-rail incidents". In the last ten years, the number of deaths in Nebraska was 55. Nationwide, 204 people lost their lives in "highway-rail incidents" last year, and 2906 have perished in the last 10 years. Where will the next fatal incident ocurr???'s at least more likely it will not be in Thedford....

    Good comment from the truck driver as well, I take this route for the same reasons, although in my case I am pulling a travel trailer rather than a commercial vehicle, and I do make it a point to stop in many of the small towns I pass through.

    January 28, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  45. td

    We need to think beyond our small towns and consider the value of projects to the country as a whole. Regarding this specific bridge, I have passed through this area in my western travels several times in the past few years. (I live in Michigan). I am always impressed by the amount of commerce still riding on our railways across America's heartland. Even though there are few local residents, I know from experience that there is still significant traffic on US-83, which surely benefits places like Thedford (yes, I have stopped there in my travels) The bridge is not unlike many I see being built across the rails all across this land. Such projects increase the safety for the public and also increase the potential for increased efficiencies and safety in our use of the rails for both commerce and transportation. Anyone who has seen (or in the case of journalists, have reported on) the results of an accident at a rail crossing knows the value of a safer crossing goes well beyond the direct local short term economic impact of such a project.

    January 28, 2010 at 10:54 am |
  46. Trucker John

    Another point that CNN failed to mention is the amount of commercial truck traffic that uses this highway as a very valuable (fuel and time saving) north / south route between interstate 80 and interstate 90.....

    January 28, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  47. ronvan

    Well here I go again! Reading these comments I get confused on some points:
    1. Contractor/workers, come from Colorado: How much did this ADD to the price? And does this mean that Colorado is so good that they have NO projects to get done?
    2. In this case the "people" of this town had no problem with the situation, so their opinions were ignored totally!
    3. What would have been the cost to have the railroad move, a mile or so out of town? Cost of building a railroad bridge at the selected site?
    4. Priorities: Guess this was the "most important" project in Nebraska?
    5. Safety: Why no mention of how many accidents/near misses?
    6. 168 people in the town. What is the annual traffic movement through this area? How many "out of towners" pass through?
    7. Profit: So did the people of this town make a ton of money while the bridge was being built? Are they now "financially" set for their future?
    Alot of questions unanswered for me so I see this as a "misuse" of $$$$.

    January 28, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  48. mary cali

    Looks like with this Stimulus Report, CNN is trying to outfox FOX.
    When will CNN learn the last thing the country needs is another Fox.

    January 28, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  49. Jodycue

    How many people in a town of 160 something has the ability to work on a job like this? How many people know what it takes to build a bridge? Even I, at age 74 could hold a flag to direct traffic.
    If they have a motel, and I doubt they do, It would have been packed with the people from the job. I am ashamed at the town people who didn't appreciate what they had while it lasted. Wake up and support what the President is trying to do. I live in Ohio in A Town of 50,000 and any business coming to our town to create JOBS would be greeted with open arms.
    CNN get it right.

    January 28, 2010 at 9:28 am |
  50. linda

    What about the people that supplied all the materials to build this bridge. Did the out of state contractor bring all the building materials with them? Maybe if you didn't have such a high paying job, you might like the 10 dollars per hour. Christine, just move on over to CNN. No, I take it back, just stay where you are, CNN is getting more like Fox everyday. Rush Limbaugh, and the right, are proud of you.

    January 28, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  51. tc

    Your analysis was too simple.

    First: a bridge that was needed was built (would it have been built without the funds; or, did it divert funds to temporarily pay other workers).

    Second: 23 people got paid – what would they have earned if no bridge was built?

    Reporting that most of workers were out-of-town (americans) is meaningless information – they were getting paid and were not on unemployment benefits.

    Third: a useful bridge remains – this has significant long-term residual value.

    Fourth: so what if we are paying relatively low interest over 30 years? That is how you always fund long-term-value construction projects.

    How about reporting on the almost no-interest loans that investment banks are borrowing and the profits they are making by simply buying treasury notes (resulting in extremely high %, no-risk profits). Are these the people getting those insultingly high bonuses? Does the country have anything tangible to show for those gigantic amount of profits (except for those bankers being among the group complaining about the deficit)?

    Please borrow from us to repair aging bridges, repair aging water system, repair/modernize the electrical infrastructure, build rational high-speed transit systems. We'll pay these off over 30-50 years – the useful life of these projects.

    January 28, 2010 at 8:54 am |
  52. mrcynic

    Your coverage of the bridge led one to believe that the whole concept was accomplished in the first year of Obamas tenure. Nothing, I repeat, NOTHING gets done in Washington or any other part of Government in one year. It takes from three to five years just to plan where a bridge will be built, another one to two years to draw the planst up and another year to get it out to bid and rolling. Secondly, the gentleman was paid for his property: the local people had no employment before the bridge was started, looks like they all benefited from it.

    January 28, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  53. L. Costolo

    Come on guys and gals! What about reporting here? Are we saying we only interview one side...what about the engineers, the railroad company? Did we not get their input on the why? Are we saying we base all infrastructure decisions on the size of the city thus only Chicago, New York etc. get all the money? This report was terrible journalism. Give me more information....not just populist journalism for ratings!

    January 28, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  54. luis

    its incredible the waste of money on this bridge, all that to save 30 seconds of wait time?, common.
    i live in nogales arizona it is a border town and our wait is between
    30 minutes to an hour, it divides our town in half, it is a town of about
    30000 people and it borders a city of about 400000 people, so to me
    this bridge it is a complete waste of money

    January 28, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  55. mtnsnake

    President Obama hit one out of the park last night, so what does CNN do? It tries to diminish what the stimulus bill is doing by picking a needle out of a haystack in the form of a story about a 7 million dollar bridge that was built with safety and jobs in mind and painting it as something wasteful. 60-80 trains run through there every day. It was not wasteful. When I saw the way you highlighted that story this morning, I thought I was watching FOX and almost turned the channel. If anything was wasteful, it was the amount of coverage you gave this non-story this morning on TV.

    January 28, 2010 at 8:46 am |
  56. Josh

    On the report you aired on TV, you skewed the numbers. It's was very poor reporting. The two other stimulus projects you listed quoted the per capita for the ENTIRE county, however, when referring to this project, you only listed the town itself. The county in South Carolina you mentioned had about $10k per capita for the entire county.

    According to a 2005 estimate of Thomas County Nebraska where Thedford is located, the population is 623. So if you take the cost of the bridge, it's only a little over $11K per capita.

    You have to compare like items. You cannot compare the stimulus dollars of one city to the stimulus dollars of an entire county.

    January 28, 2010 at 8:45 am |
  57. Ralph Thompson

    The people of this community cannot say that they did not benefit from this Nebraska Bridge. Any restaurants, motels, gas stations, laundromats, drug stores, super markets, police and fire that are in this community benefitted.

    The agency that put out the contract for bid, should have specified the percentage of Nebraska workers that would be required to work on the contract. They are to blame for writing a poor contract requirement.

    Most of the personnel required to work on this type of construction have to have special certifications and experience. You cannot take Joey of the plow and expect him to know how to identify potential structural problems on a bridge sector.

    January 28, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  58. Rich D

    Why stop there? Let's build a big prison next to that bridge to hold all the greedy bankers who wrecked our economy. It can be paid for with their bonus funds.

    Hey CNN. Why are you reporting on trivial news like this and not on the biggest bank heist in history and the politicians who let them get away with it? Anderson Cooper could use something else to report on once he gets bored of Haiti instead of reporting On celebrity rumors.

    January 28, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  59. mary cali

    I oppose waste of government $$ just like everyone else. However, your Stimulus project is very unbalanced. At least whatever money is considered "wasted" has been spent in the USA, unlike the trillion ++ that has been squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Some economist, probably Keynes, said that paying people to work whether it is digging ditches and filling them up again would help get a country out of a recession. I prefer they do more productive work, but your criticism of the Stimulus Project does not give the whole picture of jobs saved. We cannot tell how bad the recession would have been had we not done a stimulus.

    January 28, 2010 at 8:31 am |
  60. Linda

    You missed a huge point in your story claiming no jobs. I know a lot of people out of work that would not put down a part time $10.00 an hour job. If she didn't appreciate it she should not have applied for it because someone would have appreciated that job.

    You state that the construction company jobs already existed but you fail to point out that THAT IS THE POINT!! Keep existing jobs. You are just jumping on the latest bandwagon to twist the story the way that you want.

    I can't believe the restaurant & gas station didn't appreciate the extra business.

    Christine, sounds like you need to go to fox. CNN is supposed to be non biased.

    January 28, 2010 at 8:29 am |
  61. Barbara Booker

    I was originally planning to mention that you tend to slant the facts to validate your agenda. However, I noted that two previous comments mentioned the facts I was planning. You certainly fail to mention that for each one job created, there are numerous ancillary jobs created as a bonus. It used to be 7 jobs created for each 1 due to the flow of income from that first job. Don't know what the number is in this economy, but I would venture to guess that it is higher than the previously noted 7. I wish you would be honest in your reporting. Maybe you could start to work on that? That would certainly be a "breath of fresh air".

    January 28, 2010 at 7:31 am |
  62. Joe

    This is poor reporting. If I understand the laws correctly, railroads have to run considerably more slowly where there are street level crossings. Listen to the number of trains going through this town (they actually say 60-80 daily in the story). Of course this bridge was of no benefit to the town. But it's of great benefit to our American rail infrastructure. Unfortunately, none of this is discussed in the story.

    January 28, 2010 at 7:26 am |
  63. Wes Ketchem

    I am a retired signalman of a different railroad. The FRA has input on crossing eliminations based on criteria such as near misses, fatalities, number of trains per day, vehicle traffic.
    Eighty trains a day is a lot of trains, one every 15 minutes.
    Check with the FRA and determine if they have any data to support this crossing project.
    I have seen a lot of crossing accidents over my 37 years. I am for this project. The cost may justify the outcome.

    January 28, 2010 at 7:22 am |
  64. Interest Exps

    Its not tell the full story when we say that the price of a stimulus project is $100,000 (example)... the true price will include interest expense as we are borrowing the money.. thus the final price should include interest expense.

    The country has to start talking about the interest expense.. this is an emerging threat to our well being. Yet, we don't.. what is the real price of the $100,000 stimulus project, likely 5 times as much when the money is finally paid back by taxpayers.

    Thank you. Dve

    January 28, 2010 at 6:46 am |
  65. Gary

    I just listened to your broadcast of the little town big bridge. Please be more accurate on what the stimulus actually did. I noticed you only mentioned the 20 existing jobs it used to build the bridge and the 2 local jobs. That have ended. You failed to mention the jobs it also used to create the material used, the jobs it used transportating material, the jobs it used for the local economy, the gas station, reastaurants, motels.
    Maybe the project did not create new jobs but it did exactly what was expected. Keeping people working. Apparently the railroad saved money they contributed to the project.
    I notice your news programs are usually very good, but you seem to be leaning toward not supplying all the facts, and your starting to embelish the effects.

    January 28, 2010 at 6:42 am |
  66. Jon Plast

    After watching your Nebraska bridge report I have two comments. 1- I believe Colorado is still in the United States (so any contractor from another state would still be stimulating the U.S. economy) and 2 – Railroad bridges = greater crossing safety (Duh!).

    January 28, 2010 at 6:32 am |