Report: Tri-States Spend Stimulus Wisely; Country Doesn't

Today, Smart Growth America released a new report detailing states’ progress in meeting the Obama administration’s goals of jump-starting the economy and laying the foundation for future economic growth. The report, “The States and the Stimulus,” finds that almost one-third of the flexible ARRA Surface Transportation Program funding committed by states so far is going to projects that increase road and bridge capacity.

Click to download [PDF].

Click to download (PDF).

However, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have so far devoted the vast majority of their stimulus funds to road and bridge repair and preservation. All three states rank in the top ten, with Connecticut committing all of its STP funds to repair and New Jersey and New York committing 96 percent and 93 percent, respectively.

Investment in road and bridge maintenance is the right way to spend money for several reasons, the report points out. Road repair and maintenance generate 16% more jobs than expansion and employ more types of workers, the report says.

The most important question for Connecticut is whether its decision to commit all of its road funding to repair represents an actual shift in state policy or just that maintenance projects were easier for ConnDOT to get out the door. As MTR has previously said, the upcoming release of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program will reveal the answer.

The same question applies to New Jersey, but NJDOT has a much stronger history of fix-it-first policy and this year told MTR that it considers road expansion “a last resort.” (Notably, New Jersey was the only one of the three states that “flexed” STP money to pay for bike or pedestrian projects, spending 4%.)

The report’s analysis is far from complete when it comes to New York, as it omits all but a handful of downstate projects and all of New York City’s projects. (The report looks only at projects approved by USDOT, and New York has been slow to get its projects through the approval process). Hopefully a future analysis will reaffirm this, to-date, positive track record.

ARRA requires that states commit at least half of their stimulus funds within 120 days of the law’s March 2 signing. That deadline falls on Monday, June 29. SGA’s report is meant to offer an early glimpse at whether states are taking advantage of the flexibility of the STP funding to fund transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects, and whether they are making fix-it-first a priority.

A handful of states spent more than two-thirds of their stimulus funding on new or widened roads and bridges. And the national average of 31 percent spent on new capacity projects is far greater than the 20 percent of STP funds devoted to those types of projects in the first two years of SAFETEA-LU. Nationally, more than 60 percent is being spent on road and bridge repair, with the balance going to transit, bicycle and pedestrian, or other projects.

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