Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, a 78-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher, is playing hardball on Capitol Hill, single-handedly holding up a $10 billion spending bill because it would add to the deficit.
The move has forced some 2,000 federal employees into unpaid furloughs, put jobless benefits in jeopardy for millions and halted more than 40 highway projects.
Because of his ornery nature and ungovernable mouth, Bunning has come to be regarded as the crazy uncle in the Senate attic during his 11 years in Washington. And because he is retiring after this session, there isn't much anyone can do to keep him in line.
But back in 1997, Jim Bunning earmarked $500,000 for PRT, an infeasible transportation concept.
The history of Jim Bunning's crazy earmark is on the Skyloop PRT website (PDF):
In 1997, Senator Jim Bunning obtained $500,000 in federal funds for the study of elevated rail as a possible choice for the I-71 Corridor. OKI had previously rejected all forms of elevated rail in the I-71 Corridor Study; but these funds were to be used only for study of elevated rail, so they were just sitting at OKI, waiting for an agreement between Sen. Bunning and OKI on how they would be used. The CALSC was created when the Sky Loop Committee (SLC) asked Senator Bunning to release the $500,000 to be used for a study of elevated rail (PRT) for a downtown Cincinnati-Covington-Newport transit circulator. Senator Bunning agreed to allow the use of these funds for studying the feasibility of the Sky Loop for the downtown area circulator, which eventually was called the Central Area Loop (CAL).
A 1998 Cincinnati Biz Journal article has more:
Of course, not everyone is sold on PRT. Among its critics is Downtown Cincinnati Inc. transportation guru John Schneider.
"If you liked the Wild Mouse ride at Disneyland, you'll love PRT," said Schneider. "In my view, there's nothing to this."
Schneider questions whether PRT's four-person cars can handle the volume required downtown. Even if it can, he says building a PRT system in addition to light rail is an "unnecessary duplication."
Schneider thinks its elevated rails will clash with urban architecture and could create a third level of pedestrian activity in downtown Cincinnati, where walkers already have a choice between city sidewalks and the Skywalk system. Finally, he doubts whether people will feel safe in a car with no driver.
"I don't know what you do when one of these things breaks down over the Ohio River," he said. "Does a fireman take a ladder up there and rescue you?"
Then there's the issue of cost. Three PRT bidders submitted price tags ranging from $47 million to $58 million, with annual operating costs ranging from $740,000 to $4.9 million.
"I would not accept those (cost figures) at face value," said Tim Reynolds, director of strategic planning for Metro, Cincinnati's transit system. "I think they're optimistic at best."
In fact, the only PRT track that's ever been built is a one-third mile test track with one station that cost $40 million. The track was built by New York-based defense contractor Raytheon Co., in partnership with Taxi 2000, which is trying to sell a PRT system to the regional transit authority in Chicago.
Taxi 2ooo - the same, goofy, would-be PRT vendor that's trying to bamboozle Winona into building a PRT testing facility.
They even had a wacky monorail/PRT symposium like the one MnDOT had in Rochester, Minnesota... both featuring J. E. Anderson.
What happened to Jim Bunning's PRT earmark? It was used to hire engineers to do a study that compared reality-based transit modes with PRT. PRT got failing marks.
You can read that study (2001 OKI Central Loop) here.
Bowling Green Daily News - 6/29/1997 (click on article to make it bigger):