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Transportation Stimulus Spending: One Year Later

By Sean Slone, CSG Transportation Policy Analyst
It’s been one year since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The $787 billion stimulus package, signed into law Feb. 17, 2009, provided $48.1 billion for transportation infrastructure projects, including $27.5 billion for highways and bridges. The Federal Highway Administration reports that as of Jan. 29, more than 11,000 highway projects around the country have won federal approval to proceed, nearly 7,000 projects are under contract or ready to proceed and more than 2,000 projects are already completed.
Highway and transit projects combined have created or sustained 280,000 direct, on-project jobs. The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee estimates total employment associated with those projects reaches nearly 890,000 jobs.
But the Recovery Act has also clearly had an impact on how state government does business, according to The Council of State Governments’ new national report, “Shovel-Ready or Not? State Stimulus Successes on the Road to Recovery.” CSG will release the report next month on how a number of states were able to successfully meet deadlines to get projects up and running, select projects that could not only create jobs but have a wider impact as well, and answer the call for unprecedented transparency and accountability in the process of implementing stimulus highway spending.
The report takes a look at implementation of the Recovery Act highway spending over the past year through the eyes of some of those who made it happen—state stimulus czars and department of transportation officials. In addition to these conversations, the report features 50-state charts detailing where all states stood at various points in the implementation process and provides contextual information on the issues states faced in trying to meet Recovery Act goals.
Among the report’s general findings:
  • While attempting to follow federal guidance, each state implemented the Recovery Act in its own way, according to its own needs and conditions.
  • Each state had to look at its own situation and make choices on what to fund. States that already had a long list of projects in their queue tended to fare well in meeting deadlines and getting projects up and running. Other states that had cut projects and budgets in recent years were often slower to get going.
  • The stimulus was important not only because it allowed states to tackle many projects on their to-do lists, but also because it allowed states to move projects that were further down the project list up in the queue.
  • Combined with state funding and other sources, the stimulus, for many states, provided nearly what states need in transportation funding every year. Because of the stimulus, states were able to make headway on their transportation needs in what would otherwise have been a dismal year due to declining tax revenues and state budget cuts.
  • Recovery Act transparency and accountability efforts were just a teaser of what’s to come. Open, accountable and performance-based is the way all government is trending.
  • State officials hope Recovery Act implementation has shown they can be entrusted with additional federal dollars for transportation spending and that states can be given greater flexibility in deciding what to fund.
Among the states highlighted in the report:
  • Maine, as the first state to obligate 100 percent of its highway funds;
  • Wyoming and New Hampshire for their speed in actually utilizing their stimulus highway funding;
  • Iowa for committing 93 percent of highway stimulus dollars to road repairs (rather than building new roads); and
  • Maryland for its use of StateStat, an interactive and influential government transparency Web site, to track Recovery Act spending.
The full report will be available in March on the CSG Web site. Read the Executive Summary


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