Reconciling Pork-Barrel Politics and
National Transportation Policy:
Highway Demonstration Projects
The 152, highway demonstration projects mandated by the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987 were among the most highly contended provisions of that major reauthorization of the nation's highway and mass transit programs. They were named by President Reagan as a chief reason for his veto, subsequently overridden. Disagreement over them had contributed to the demise of the 1986 House-Senate conference on the bill at the end of the 99th Congress, which in turn produced a five-month gap in program spending authority for states.
The conflict was due not to the existence of demonstration projects per se but to the tremendous growth in their number between the previous program reauthorization, in 1982, and the 1987 reauthorization. The Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 contained ten demonstration projects, which were primarily for key committee and chamber leaders; the 1987 legislation contained 152.
Demonstration projects are specially designated projects for the districts of individual members of Congress. They range from "a preliminary engineering study to plan and design alternatives to the Ferry Street Bridge in Eugene, Oregon" to "a new route from Los Alamos, New Mexico, to Santa Fe, New Mexico." Some project descriptions, like the preceding, do not refer to demonstrations of any kind. Others do, as in a project in San Bernadino, California, "for the purpose of demonstrating methods of improving highway access to an airport which is projected to incur a substantial increase in air service." 1
Demonstration projects were initially included in the 1987 bill by the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, the committee of jurisdiction. 2 The projects were desirable to the legislators who received them for