HILLSBOROUGH, N.H. – Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney on Friday criticized a restored 19th century bridge as another "Bridge to Nowhere" and a fresh symbol of the waste he says is rampant in President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan.
From the parking lot of a Ford dealership, Romney pointed to the nearby stone bridge that straddles the Contoocook River and called it a boondoggle. The town of Hillsborough received $150,000 in federal stimulus money to repair the Sawyer Bridge as part of a new park project designed to put people to work installing new benches, lights and visitor parking.
Those additions have not happened.
"This is the absolute Bridge to Nowhere if there ever was one. That's your stimulus dollars at work. A bridge that goes nowhere," Romney said.
The so-called Bridge to Nowhere rose to prominence as a symbol of wasteful Washington spending. Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who died in a plane crash in 2010, set aside funding for a bridge to a remote island that local officials didn't really want. It was eventually nixed and resulted in overhaul to the earmarking, or funding lawmakers' pet projects.
Indeed, the freshly repaired bridge with its new concrete surface and black iron pedestrian rails stops just as it reaches the other side. The road it once served has shifted a few hundred feet and a replacement bridge connects the two sides of the central New Hampshire town.
Hillsborough's application for money from Obama's $800 billion stimulus program claimed the new bridge would be the centerpiece of a park for residents to walk or bike. But the town hasn't completed its portion of the project, leaving the bridge ready for visitors but still inaccessible to the public.
Romney seized on it as part of a plan that was "without question, the largest, one-time, careless expenditure of government money in American history."
Obama's campaign rejected the assertion and said the president's policies have helped create millions of jobs.
"When President Obama took office, we were in the midst of an economic crisis and losing 750,000 jobs a month," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith. "The president's policies, policies that Mitt Romney criticizes, helped bring the economy back from the brink of another Depression and we've now seen over 4.2 million jobs created over the last 26 months."
Romney didn't much care who had come up short. He blamed the Obama administration.
"The bad news is that's not just wasteful spending. It's wasteful borrowing, as well. Because we're still going to be paying on that debt for years and years and years," he said in a state where fiscal conservatism runs deep among voters of all stripes.
New Hampshire does not have a state sales or income tax. Any suggestion of tax increases spells political disaster, and allegations of wasteful spending help — or hurt — politicians from both parties.
Obama and Romney are expected to fight over New Hampshire. While it offers just four of the 270 electoral votes it takes to win the presidency, activists from both parties note that had Democrat Al Gore carried the state in 2000 he would have won the White House despite losing Florida to Republican George W. Bush.
Romney allies defended his criticism of the stimulus even though its money paid for part of the project.
"Should we be borrowing money from China to fund projects like that? Does that make any sense? No. It does not make any sense," said Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, a Romney supporter.
Romney aides contend the project added to the federal deficit and diverted dollars away from worthwhile infrastructure programs that would have been completed, such as bridges that actually carry vehicles.