By Ashley Conroy
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) -- A new report from Columbia University found that billions of earmarked dollars remain unspent nationwide.
Unspent projects date back up to 20 years and show that of the 7,374 congressionally directed highway projects, about half (3,649) remained virtually untouched.
This equals around $13 billion in pet projects never used, according to the report.
Driving down any highway or passing through a construction site in Mississippi, and the road itself may have been paid for by congressional earmarked dollars.
The report shows that around $175 million in Mississippi hasn't been used.
"To have the public see that as unspent dollars is kind of misleading," said Mississippi Department of Transportation Director, Butch Brown.
Brown says the reason is because many earmarked projects last for several years, and most are only partially funded and need additional funding to get the job completed.
"These projects are typically multi-year in nature," Brown said. "They are partially funded, never fully funded."
For instance the road construction project to extend Highway 9 that runs through Pontotoc, MS to extend to Blue Springs passed Highway 78 costs around $130 million.
Brown says just $8 million has been allocated from congressional earmarks, but only for the construction costs.
"So to that extent the $8 million dollars won't be spent until we go to construction, which is about 8 or 9 months from now."
A statement released from U.S. Senator Thad Cochran's office says this practice is fairly typical.
"It is not unusual for some earmarks to be held up within the federal bureaucracy because of technicalities or issues associated with planning or cost-share ratios. The Senator is open to considering ideas to improve that process to ensure that funding designated for Mississippi highway and road improvements is utilized."
However, when this money doesn't get used, the report says this means unused tax payer dollars.
To link to the full report go to: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2011-01-04-earmarks_N.htm
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