I’ve been out of the office, so I’m a little behind on this story.  But even a week late, I just have to weigh in on this one.

The News & Observer ran a piece last week about two new bridge projects in Raleigh – Wade Avenue over Capital Boulevard, and Capital Boulevard over Peace Street.  Both bridges are old and need to be updated.  They just aren’t built for the amounts of traffic that currently use them.  And so, NCDOT and the city are partnering on bridge improvements.

That much is fair enough.  I’ve written over and over about the necessity of investing in good infrastructure that allows economies to grow.  Roads are part of that infrastructure.  I don’t object to bridge improvements.

But here’s where I start to get concerned.  According to that N&O piece,

The state is covering most of the cost of the project, but the city is putting up money for accessories such as a greenway trail, street trees and the art. The city is paying Scuri $40,000 to design the bridge art and oversee its creation and has budgeted $880,000 for materials and installation, though that figure will go up because it didn’t include the late addition of the grillwork on the abutments.

I love art, but I have to question spending a million dollars of taxpayer money on bridge aesthetics in this way.  $40,000 for bridge art design?  And another $880,000+ for materials and installation?  That just seems wasteful.  Especially when we keep seeing the city increase taxes.
So I have a few ideas.  First, what if we just built bridges that were functional and didn’t worry about the art but, instead, returned money to taxpayers through a reduction in property taxes?  That seems like it would be a responsible way to approach city finances.
Or what if, instead of spending $40,000 to hire in a firm from Seattle, we handed the project over to a team of advanced design students somewhere in the UNC system?  We’re already investing heavily in those students, and a project like this would give them an opportunity to be involved in some real world design.  I bet you’d be able to find professors interested in such a project, and it would immediately save the $40,000 as well as being a great investment in our students.
If we set those students the additional task of creating attractive design without necessitating a million dollars for materials and installation, I bet they’d even come up with some cost-effective solutions.
Unfortunately, this all seems like it’s coming from a city council that’s forgotten it’s spending the money of hard-working taxpayers.  This sort of frivolous spending of other people’s money has to stop.