Well, you gotta hand it to Dallas politicians and the team at TxDOT: they not only paid a premium for an artsy, one-of-a-kind bridge that’s coming in far over budget, but it turns out the bridge isn’t all that original, either. And neither is the wasteful hit to the taxpayers.

The Dallas Morning News reports that the city has been:

…all proud of ourselves for landing North America’s first vehicular bridge designed by Spanish starchitect Santiago Calatrava. It’s a beauty, cables spun off a high white arch, daringly supporting the roadway not from the edge, but from the middle. Lit by brilliant LED floodlights at night, it promises to become a new Dallas signature…

But wait: Someone beat us to it.

Check out pictures of a three-bridge span that Calatrava designed for the posh northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia. The two bridges that bookend the assemblage are our bridge. Inaugurated in 2007, the Italian bridges have the same high white arch, the same subtle spin of cables supporting the roadway.

We’ll freely admit that we didn’t know who Santiago Calatrava is, nor — most likely — will motorists slogging their way to and from work care. Frankly, the idea of building bridges-as-art is probably somewhat mystifying when considering the constant problem transportation poses. In doing so, the chances for a high-dollar boondoggle exponentially increase.

And such is the case with the not-yet-completed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. While originally claimed to cost $117 million, the final expected price-tag will top $182 million.

Back in 2010, former mayor (and current US Senate candidate) Tom Leppert said the extravagant spending was justified because “long in the future, this bridge, this arch, is going to be the foreground, the background of everything.”

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge -- over budget, and a knock-off design to boot? (Artist rendition from KERA.org)

Let’s all admit that the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge is a beauty. Gorgeous. But a third-more-than-budgeted gorgeous? No one wants ugly structures, but neither should artistic sensibilities crowd out scarce taxpayer dollars for more worthwhile transportation priorities.

You’ll remember that cities in the DFW Metroplex (including Dallas and Fort Worth) have spent the last several years trying to convince lawmakers to hike gasoline taxes. State Rep. Vicki Truitt of Southlake and the merry band of taxers claimed more revenues were needed because there just wasn’t enough money available for transportation projects.

But here in LED-powered glory we see once again the truth that budget problems aren’t caused by a lack of revenues, but an overabundance of bad spending decisions. Re-spinning Mr. Leppert’s enthusiasm for the bridge, the extra millions spent on it will also be in the foreground and background of every stalled road project in north Texas.

The next time officials tell us transportation dollars — local and state — aren’t available and higher taxes are needed, remember that Dallas chose to vastly overspend on a knock-off designer bridge with parts imported from European foundries, rather than pick projects that will efficiently let people move from where they are to where they want to be.