Governments Fund the Darnedest Things.

Here are 7 of the largest, oddest, and most useless state projects in the world:

1. Limestone Tourist Park - Bedford, Indiana.

The Great Idea: Turn a small Midwestern town into a tourist mecca for lovers of limestone block.
The Great Big Problem: Limestone block is not as big a draw as you think.
Cost to Taxpayers: $700,000

Despite being the undisputed "Limestone Capital of the World," Bedford, Ind., always had a hard time figuring out how to parlay its claim to fame into a thriving tourism industry. That is, until Bedford Chamber of Commerce member Merle Edington came up with a brilliant plan. In the late 1970s, Edington proposed that Bedford build a Disney-style theme park. But, instead of cartoon characters, the park's main attraction would be limestone, featuring a 95-foot-high replica of the Great Pyramid of Cheops [wiki] build out of (you guessed it) local limestone blocks. And, on the off chance that a scale model of one world wonder wouldn't be exciting enough, Edington added plans for an 800-foot-long replica of the Great Wall of China [wiki]. While the power of limestone over the vacationing public is debatable, Edington convinced the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration to believe in his dream - to the tune of $700,000.

Unfortunately, those funds dried up quickly, thanks to Indiana Wisconsin senator William Proxmire [wiki] (famous for his "Golden Fleece Awards" ridiculing government waste), who called attention to the project. The town was left deep in debt, unable to even pay Edington's salary. Today, the abandoned project is little more than a giant rock pile.

See also: Roadside America's Cursed Pyramid Ruins

2. Combating the Goths in Missouri

The Great Idea: Cure adolescent angst by fighting the forces of goth subculture in Missouri.
The Great Big Problem: Harassment of misunderstood youth subcultures is best left to high school football players. They'll do it for free.
Cost to Taxpayers: $141,000

Turning goth, a "How to" by Bloody Mary

In 2002, Blue Springs, Mo., found itself under siege from an insidious force - a force armed with pale skin, black hair, black eyeliner, and a collection of old albums by The Cure. Yes, goth culture had gained a toehold in the otherwise ordinary hamlet, and there was only one thing to do about it: Stamp it out with the aid of a $273,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

With the funds secured, the Blue Springs Youth Outreach Unit set out to combat the goths, whom the community believed to be involved in activities including animal sacrifice, self-mutilation, and vampire worship. Reportedly, about half of the grant went to staff salaries, staff trips (to conferences on teen drug use and satanic cults), the formation of a little-used counseling program, and a series of never-held town-hall meetings (presumably intended for daylight hours, when vampire infestation wouldn't be a problem). After two years of public criticism, officials made the startling discovery that maybe goths weren't such a problem after all and returned the remaining $132,000 to the government.

See also: Goth subculture [wiki] | Blue Springs Youth Outreach Unit

3. The Cross Florida Barge Canal

The Great Idea: Build a shipping shortcut through the middle of Florida.
The Great Big Problem: The plan would effectively turn half the state into an island. Florida is a peninsula. Get used to it.
Cost to Taxpayers: $120 million, in this century anyway.

The Cross-Florida Barge Canal was one of those ideas that refused to go away. First proposed by Spanish settlers in the 1570s, the canal was supposed to cut through the middle of the peninsula to connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Gulf of Medico, significantly shortening shipping times. However, after Florida came under U.S. control in the early 19th century, Congress surveyed the land and decided that any canal that would turn a huge chunk of the state into an island just wasn't feasible, and the plan was scrapped.

Fast forward to the Great Depression. Suddenly, any project that would create 6,000 jobs seemed like a good idea. President Franklin D. Roosevelt allocated emergency funds to the canal, and digging commenced in 1935. A year later, progress stalled due to environmental concerns, then picked back up, then stalled again, and the cycle continued until 1963, when President Kennedy allocated $1 million to the project. Work began after Kennedy's death and continued for seven years, but - yet again - concern about the canal's environmental impact ground progress to a halt. Finally, in 1991, the canal (by this time a $120 million partial scar across the middle of the state) was officially pronounced dead. The land was converted into a greenway named after Marjorie Harris Carr, the environmentalist who'd led the charge against the canal in the 1960s.

See also: Cross Florida Barge Canal [wiki]

4. Superconducting Super Collider

The Great Idea: Build a miracle machine that can replicate the Big Bang, help treat life-threatening illnesses, and maybe even unfold the mysteries of the universe.
The Great Big Problem: You get what you pay for - and miracle machines cost way, way too much.
Cost to Taxpayers: Roughly $12 billion - and the lives of billions of innocent atoms.

Few government projects have ever been announced with the level of fanfare reserved for the 1980s Superconducting Super Collider. Housed in a 54-mile underground tunnel beneath Waxahachie, Texas, the Super Collider was designed to accelerate beams of subatomic particles to fantastic speeds and then crash the particles into one another, purportedly generating huge amounts of energy. Advocates believed the machine would be able to simulate the conditions present during the Big Bang, thus allowing scientists to gain new insights into the very nature of matter. But many Super Collider fans made even bolder statements about the machine's abilities, pointing out that other devices using similar technology have been used to treat cancer and learn more about HIV. As potential uses for the machine grew, however, so did the cost - ballooning from an original estimate of less than $5 billion to just under $12 billion. Finally, in the midst of the 1993 budget-cutting boom, Congress pulled the plug on the project, with less than one-third of the tunnel finished. For a while, it was used to store Styrofoam cups, but then it was sold off to private businesses for pennies on the dollar. Although scientists (and the citizens of Waxahachie) still mourn the loss of this major research center, there are several other machines in the world that do basically the same thing on a smaller scale. They're called particle accelerators, and the largest one is a mere 5 miles in diameter.

See also: Superconducting Super Collider [wiki] | SSC Website

5. White Sea - Baltic Sea Canal

The Great Idea: Build a canal connecting the White Sea and the Baltic Sea as a way to strengthen the Soviet Union's military and economic might.
The Great Big Problem: In Soviet Russia, nobody's a volunteer.
Cost to Taxpayers: 101 million rubles and several thousand lives. That, and Josef Stalin's otherwise sterling reputation for labor relations.

Say what you will about egomaniacal dictator Josef Stalin, but in 1933, he did the bureaucratically impossible: He completed a massive public works project on time and within budget. In 1930, Stalin had decided to dig a 141-mile canal connecting the White Sea to the Baltic Sea, in order to create a quick passage for cargo and warships. By mid-1933, it was complete. Not bad - unless, of course, you happened to pay attention to the worker death toll, which many estimates place in the tens of thousands. Stalin culled his construction crew from the ranks of prisoners in his Gulag detention camps, and when their numbers "dwindled," he supplemented the canal labor pool by simply arresting more people. Conditions on the project were brutal; malnourished workers were forced to break through rock with primitive tools, without the aid of explosives or heavy equipment. Sadly, their efforts went largely to waste. The canal proved too shallow for military vessels and saw little use by commercial ships. Stalin, however, was undeterred by the massive loss of life and utter failure of the canal. He went on to use the project as a springboard for numerous other prisoner-built ventures.

6. The Bimbo School

The Great Idea: When creating jobs for the unemployed, cater to the pretty people first.
The Great Big Problem: Regional dignity seems to have gone overlooked.
Cost to Taxpayers: 1 million euros (about $1.2 million U.S.)

In 2003, the European Union came up with a novel solution for lowering soaring unemployment levels among young people in Italy's Campania [wiki] region - history's first job-creation program catering solely to the physically attractive. With a grant of 1 million euros, the EU opened First Tel School, a quasi-educational program designed to train students to become TV game show hostesses. The eight-month program, labeled "bimbo school" by critics, offered courses on diction, make-up, and other skills necessary to get a job on one of the country's many popular game and variety shows.

The school's de facto policy of discriminating against all of Campania's less toothsome residents aside, First Tel also failed to admit enough students to offer any kind of relief to the region's unemployed population (which was estimated to be 50 percent of young people). Fewer than 100 spots were made available to the 1,200 Vanna White wannabes who applied. Worse still, even those who did make the cut received a whopping 2 euros for every class attended, as well as auditions for parts in the shows First Tel produced for Italian television stations. Meanwhile, rejected applicants remained unemployed and got daily, televised reminders of how unappealing they were.

See also: Bimbo School article in USA Today

7. Teton Dam

The Great Idea: Dam the Snake Teton River in Idaho. Sounds easy enough.
The Great Big Problem: Holding back the river's 80 billion gallons of water proved more difficult than engineers thought.
Cost to Taxpayers: $100 million in construction fees and another $2 billion in damage.

The planning and design phase of the Teton Dam in southeastern Idaho took nearly three decades; the construction took a little more than four years. The dam's total collapse, however, took exactly one afternoon. Realizing you just wasted some serious tax dollars? Priceless.

Built for just under $100 million between 1972 and 1976, the Teton Dam was supposed to provide irrigation, electricity, and (ironically) flood prevention for the thousands of people living in its 305-foot-tall shadow. But as the reservoir reached its full capacity on June 3, 1976, several small leaks began to appear in the dam. Crews were sent to patch the holes, but larger cracks followed, letting through water that eventually engulfed bulldozers and sent workmen fleeing in terror. Then, on June 5, the dam suddenly collapsed, sending more than 80 billion gallons of water rushing out of the reservoir and into the valley below. By the time the water stabilized more than five hours later, 11 people had died and hundreds of thousands of acres of land had been flooded. Despite the estimated $2 billion in damages, officials seriously considered constructing a new dam for several years afterwards. Eventually the idea was abandoned, but more recently, the flood site has gotten some good use as the route of the Teton Dam Marathon.

See also: Teton Dam Failure | Teton Dam [wiki]


The article above was written by Doug Cantor for the Nov-Dec 2006 issue of mental_floss magazine (the 5th Anniversary edition!) - it is featured on Neatorama in partnership with mental_floss.

Be sure to check out mental_floss' website and blog:

I can't believe you put the SSC in with these other waste projects, the great knowledge we can learn from a project like this would have outlived our lives, our generation, and our nation. The potential to make an achievement for mankind shouldn't be overlooked so lightly...
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I support the supercollider. Particle accelerators are essential tools in the study of particle physics. However the idea that they can cure HIV is pure BS.
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The Teton dam story was interresting and mostly true except the part about it being the Snake River it is the Teton river. I am glad they have not rebuilt it again. All I can say is "Go Nuke".
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Thanks ROF, Lynn and Tom Flaherty, I've corrected the errors.

Regarding the SSC, the cost overruns are just horrendous (rule no.1 in public works: anything that requires digging will cost *multiples* of the original estimate. Case in point, the CERN Large Hadron Collider).

Do you guys remember one of the reason for having the International Space Station was so that scientists can grow protein crystals in microgravity, solve the structure, design drugs or inhibitors and cure AIDS/cancer/whatever? Curing disease was and still is a reliable way to get grant money.
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I agree with Gzim and Adam. I can't believe you included the SSC with these other senseless boondoggles. The SSC would have capabilites beyond any other accelerator built or planned, and would have provided invaluable scientific contributions. Its demise, and inclusion here, is another example of the lack of foresight and fickleness of Americans.
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The cost of the SSC kept on rising and rising, with the latest estimate to be anywhere between $8 and $12 billion. Estimated cost of running the thing will be $500 million annually.

The merit of the knowledge to be gained from having a giant collider has to be balanced with the cost. The money would've been better spent doing other (smaller and more numerous) science projects.

The SSC just wasn't worth it, guys. Not at $12 billion.

Collin, maybe we just have to wait for the CERN Large Hadron Collider to come online, estimated to be in 2007.
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I do not see, why for the supercollider the costs for the tax payers are given as 12 billion dollars. In the other section this point only states the money actually spent. To my information that would be 2 billion dollars for the supercollider. And also no atom was killed. They did not get this far.
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OK, the SSC being on here displays ignorance of the smallest details of particle physics. The point of the SSC was to try and reach the energy levels required to reproduce the highest-energy fundamental particles, IIRC. Namely the Higgs Boson, and possibly the upper-energy quarks. Also, the difference between the SSC's 20 TeV (that's tera-electron-volts) and the more typical accelerators 10-20 GeV (giga-electron-volts) or a high-energy accelerator's 100-200 GeV (the RHIC according to wikipedia may have achieved 400 GeV... once... briefly).

The thing is that if we hadn't bailed on the SSC, it would be *done* *now*, and the testability of the Higgs Boson wouldn't be still waiting on CERN's 14 TeV collider, the LHC. When the LHC is finished, a lot of high-energy physics will probably move to Switzerland. And don't spout the crap about 'it's only about national pride'; basic science eventually pays off, usually in spades, and the US has been resting comfortably on a fast-eroding store of advances in same because it's expensive and doesn't show up on the bottom line.

This being said, maybe the tunnels that they dug would be a good place to live...
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I'd have to agree with Alex on the SSC. Thought the contributions to science would've been numerous, both the overall project cost and the annual cost of running just wouldn't have made it worth it. it wasn't worth it to this day, because all we have to show for it is a very large hole in the ground. an incomplete hole at that. lots of storage space? sure! necessary? absolutely not.
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The largest particle accelerator in the world is the CERN LEP - it's circonference is 27 km, not 5 miles.

You should have added the first attempted building of the Panama Canal to the list, btw.
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While the problems of the Big Dig have been well publicized, I don't think it qualifies as a complete and total failure yet. It can still be saved, from what I understand, though I admit I have not been following the story closely. Perhaps a Boston resident could clarify.
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I think the SSC should only be on this list because it was canceled... Thats the stupid part. the Crusader artillery program cost 11 billion *SPENT MONEY* and was then canceled. So for the cost of a failed weapons development you could have gotten close to finishing the SSC
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Regarding the SSC, Alex said:
"The merit of the knowledge to be gained from having a giant collider has to be balanced with the cost. The money would’ve been better spent doing other (smaller and more numerous) science projects."

It doesn't work that way. Smaller projects - no matter how numerous - simply cannot achieve the same energy levels as a large supercollider and therefore can never duplicate the sorts of experiments that the supercollider was intended for. By their very nature, small experiments can never garner us the same knowledge as the supercollider would have. And as for the "cost-benefit" analysis... How can we meaningfully assign dollar amounts to knowledge? Our increasing understanding of how the Universe works on its most fundamental levels is one of the primary causitive factors in many of the most important technological advances of the last century, and the benefits we could gain from a true supercollider are incalculable! Knowledge is not part of a free-market, producer-consumer relationship, you can't dismiss it as nothing more than an economic factor!
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Regarding the SSC, John said: "... And as for the “cost-benefit” analysis… How can we meaningfully assign dollar amounts to knowledge? Our increasing understanding of how the Universe works on its most fundamental levels is one of the primary causitive factors in many of the most important technological advances of the last century, and the benefits we could gain from a true supercollider are incalculable! ..."

Which advances are these exactly? Hint: most particle physicists do not claim their research has any slightest impact on technological advances. So it is surprising you obviously found such advances. Maybe you can give an example? And why exactly should the SCC fiasco be not included in this list?
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John, that was a well written comment. Thank you. But I disagree:

The next leap in knowledge will occur in biology (and nanotechnology, which will overlap significantly with molecular biology), and perhaps in quantum computing. None of which will benefit from the SSC. Money would be better spent on these "smaller" projects than the massive collider.

In physics, theories are years ahead of experiments. There are many theories that propound to explain how the universe works. None have practical applications, at least not for decades if not longer (or ever).

Lastly, we overlook the dangers of the SSC: Scientists are Trying to Create Baby Bangs. :)
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hi, interesting list. I never before heard about the Florida crossing canel.
You could think about adding the Qaraqum Canal,
the world biggest water supply project as a sample for
long term destroying of a huge landscape (drying out the aral sea).

The SSC is right in this list representing nearly every project there public money is spent.
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Mig Says:
October 24th, 2006 at 11:41 am

Comment:"The largest particle accelerator in the world is the CERN LEP - it’s circonference is 27 km, not 5 miles."

Original Text: "They’re called particle accelerators, and the largest one is a mere 5 miles in diameter."

5 miles (US Landmile)= 5*1604m = 8020 m
27000 m (circ)/ 3.1415 (Pi) = 8407.2961 m = 5.241... miles (diam)

And anyhow it is better located in neutral Swizzerland and partially under France with 20 countries owning it under supervision of the EU plus 5 other countries (incl. US) with permission to use it than it would have been in USA. Hey guys, you already own space ;-),there is so much room for other experiments and you can shoot anyone who disturbs You ;-)
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I think the point with the collider and all these massive public work projects is that no one knows what the money spent on these things would have done if left in the hands of taxpayers. Taxes taken from the people come at the cost of forgone opportunities. To say that politicians or scientists or whoever knows for sure that this burden upon the economy will blossom in the future is to deify mortals who have no such perfect knowledge. If they did, then they could gamble in the market and earn the money it would take to fund these projects.

Henry Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson" is invaluable reading by the way.
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