Our Man In New York: Baseball and bombs get the cash - bridges are just dull

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The Independent US

It may be the wealthiest nation in the world but the US sure has odd priorities when it comes to spending all that cash. Bridges and roads at home are allowed to crumble until the worst happens, while wars and weapons are never too expensive.

Budget analysts in Congress last week reckoned the $500bn (£250bn) of taxpayers money allocated so far on wrecking and then rebuilding Iraq will double before it's all over to $1 trillion. The war now accounts for 10 per cent of everything the government spends.

It is even more depressing when you consider the things that should have public funding lavished on them. It would be nice to see universal health care introduced, but that is too expensive and sounds like socialism. More money for the arts, education and the poor would be good too. And how about choking the torrents (albeit partly from private sources) spent on electing presidents?

No one could help but be astounded by last week's images of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. The miracle, given the timing in the middle of rush hour, was that more people did not perish. That it happened is not such a surprise, however. We now learn there are tens of thousands of bridges across the US considered "structurally deficient" and in need of repair.

You don't have to visit this country for long to see how its transport infrastructure has deteriorated since the interstate system was built by Eisenhower in the Fifties.

Never taken that pot-holed ride from JFK to Manhattan? Fasten your seatbelts for more turbulence. Or covered your ears in the screeching tunnels of the city's antiquated subways? As for a cross-country ride on Amtrak, good luck.

Money here tends to flow towards items that make the pulse race. That would be elections, wars and that other national passion, sports. If there was a World Cup for baseball - rather than the so-called World Series in October which involves only the US and Canada - then finding decent venues would barely be a problem. Name a big city that doesn't have a brand new, state of the art stadium it wants to show off.

Actually, that would be New York. But that is about to change. Its two major baseball teams, the Yankees and the Mets, are in deadly competition right now and not just to land places in the World Series play-off games this autumn. It's about which of them can get their spanking new stadium finished first.

That's right, while the Brooklyn Bridge gathers rust (yes, it is on the critical care list), somehow this city is building not one but two baseball stadiums barely six miles from each other, one in the Bronx, the other in Queens. It doesn't matter that the teams have perfectly good places to play for their fans already. They are not flashy enough. The new ones are both meant to be finished in time for the 2009 season.

Budgeted to cost $1.2bn, the Yankee field will be the most expensive sports facility in US history. Innovations will include 67 luxury suites for those high-flying corporate fans, compared with a measly 19 today. And Citifield, the name of the new home of the Mets, will be the second most expensive. The teams are paying for some of the construction costs, but city contributions (my money) amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sports excite Americans. Roads and bridges generally do not, save when one gives out and makes for spectacular news coverage.

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