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The new 'bridge to nowhere': Ghost airports

Evart Municipal Airport (Image)

Everyone knows about the proverbial "bridge to nowhere" -- an idiom commonly used to describe an expensive government project that will yield little to no returns. But while the phrase is now thrown around in regular political discussions as a derisive attack, the idea behind it is still prevalent in government policy.

Take, for instance, Evart Municipal Airport, located in Evart, Michigan. The town of Evart has fewer than 2,000 residents and the airport services just two flights per day on a single runway, the federal government invested $150,000 in taxpayer money on the airport in 2012, in addition to thousands more from local and state taxes.

Evart Municipal Airport (Image)

"These ghost airports are a classic economic fallacy in yet another disguise," says Patrick Hedger, a policy analyst at FreedomWorks.  "It's the 'bridge to nowhere' that you could land your Cessna on."

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy explains:

So why is taxpayer money being spent on this project in a time of supposed tight budgets? Because of one bill from over a decade ago and government's inability to end bad programs.

There are five airports within 30 nautical miles (about 34 road miles) of the city. Evart is the only airport in Osceola County in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, a group of approximately 3,400 airports nationwide that are said to be "significant to national air transportation" and funded by the federal government.

In Evart, a small town in the north central part of the state off U.S. Highway 10, this essentially means building on to the airport to justify continually receiving the funds.

According to the latest capital improvement program submitted to the state, Evart Municipal Airport has no hangars, no fueling, no aircraft based there and an issue with deer entering the runway. Over the next five years, the airport has requested $1,072,884 in federal entitlements, $93,936 in federal apportionment, $89,553 from the state, and $534,678 from the local government. The nearly $1.7 million requested is more than the $1.6 million the airport has received from those sources since 2000.

Evart's city manager, Zac Szakacs, admits that the airport has no employees and drains resources from local law enforcement who have to patrol the empty grounds.  Nevertheless, Szakacs insists that the city will continue operating the ghost airport as long as federal funding continues to roll in.

"The problem is that when the government gets into the market of infrastructure development, we begin to see tax dollars wasted on all the little projects that 'could' be built rather than those that 'need' to be built," Hedger concludes.


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