Stimulus Money won’t Stimulate?

I am disappointed to have to write this blog post but wanted to make sure others were aware of what is happening due to the language of the Recovery Bill with respect to road construction. So far, from what I have been told by DOT employees, the only roads that will be eligible to receive funding from this legislation will be Federal Aid routes. And those road projects will only receive funding if they were already programmed for construction and already have an approved project development report, an approved set of plans and specifications, and are on the April letting (if they are in Illinois).

This means that the only local roads eligible to receive this funding are local roads that were going to be built anyway with federal funds and a small portion of local funds. So how is the Recovery legislation funding going to help out immediately in this case? These local roads were going to be built anyway. This is significant because this means that the money from this legislation is not generating new jobs or new work. It is paying for jobs and work that would have been created and paid for anyway. And the small portion of local funds that are saved are not enough to make a major impact on job creation.

As an engineer who has been working in the civil engineering/public works field for 25+ years, I know I can get a significant road project for my community out to bid in a month or two depending on the extent of the reconstruction. However, this is only true if the roadway is not a Federal Aid highway because the process for getting a project out using that funding mechanism is lengthy and time consuming due to policies and regulations.

Now I also realize they are talking about another wave of funding, but that won’t happen immediately either, and again, local governments will not be able to prepare projects fast enough if they have to use the federal aid funding process.

I guess I had thought the desperate economic situation was going to allow our Federal government to actually award local governments the funds they need to rebuild their infrastructure without having to impose all these policies and regulations since the need to put people to work was professed to be the first and foremost concern. Now, I realize that this program, like so many that have been passed before is just throwing money out the door without really thinking about the mechanism and results.

Looking back what really should have been done to make this work would have been first to meet with local government people who understand how projects are designed, bid out, and constructed, and get input on the most efficient and practical method to get jobs out and put people to work. Unfortunately this does not seem to have happened, and now we are faced with not being able to receive significant funds to make much of a difference – at least at the local level.

I don’t have much insight on the other funding programs in the Recovery Bill other than the water and wastewater sections, and in those areas, they are talking about loans and only a portion of grants to local government so again, I am not sure there will be a significant impact. These projects were going forward anyway with local funds, and since the federal money will only be a loan, these local funds will have to go to pay off the loan and will not be freed up to go towards other projects.

With the Senate yet to make a decision, I suppose there is still a chance to fix this, but I have not seen any signs that the Senate will address this aspect of the Recovery Bill. I still believe that spending money on public works projects would significantly stimulate the economy, but first we have to have projects chosen and eligible for funding. And from down here in local government, I am very sorry to say the Recovery Bill does not appear to be focused on granting eligibility to all local projects that are sitting on the shelf ready to go to bid. Hopefully the Federal and State projects will be enough to make a difference.

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