After strongly criticizing President Obama’s $787-billion economic stimulus package, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has agreed to accept all $17 billion of the state’s earmarked federal money. The big question now is where and when the money will be spent.

Texas stimulus project candidates include $130 million for an Austin interchange.
Photo: CTRMA
Texas stimulus project candidates include $130 million for an Austin interchange.

The Texas Transportation Commission and the State Legislative Budget Board are both meeting to discuss how to distribute the monies and put Texans back to work, but it is unclear when plans for all specific projects will be announced. At least $2.2 billion will go to the Texas Dept. of Transportation for roads and bridges. TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott says the agency has given the Texas House Select Committee of Federal Economic Stabilization Funding a project work list.

“The department staff will eventually narrow this $2.2 billion to projects requiring $1.2 billion,” Lippincott adds. That $1.2 billion is the amount immediately available. Among the larger projects on the TxDOT list is $130 million for an interchange ramp between U.S. 290 and U.S. 183 in Austin. The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, an Austin based government agency created in 2003 to implement innovative, multimodal transportation solutions, would provide $30 million to complete the project.

The state must obligate half the money within 120 days and the remainder within a year. Lippincott says agency officials think the money will be very effective in stimulating jobs. “It’s important to remember that we are implementing economic policy, not transportation policy,” he says.

State Sen. KirkWatson (D) urged the transportation agency last fall to consult local groups about projects that could be launched immediately. “This is a great opportunity for TxDOT to show how it can work well with the Texas Legislature,” Watson says.


David Bloxom, president of design build general contractor Speed Fab-Crete, Fort Worth, says he doesn’t think the stimulus package will ultimately create additional jobs, “but it might help stop the bleeding.” He says states with shovel-ready projects already on the books—such as Texas—will benefit most.

“The Southwest Parkway toll road that will eventually run into downtown Fort Worth will be jump-started from these funds,” Bloxom says. States such as California that don’t have projects already authorized “could be hardest hit,” he adds.

Texas officials have been thinking ahead. Deirde Delisi, chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the state transportation department, sent a letter on Nov. 19 to Congress listing $6.2 billion in ready-to-go projects.

For energy and environmental programs, the $17 billion in federal funds allotted to Texas includes some $236million for weatherization and $342 million for state clean-water and drinking-water revolving funds, which provide grants to states for wastewater treatment and potable water projects, as well as energy tax reductions.

Another $5.4 billion could go toward public education over the next two years. Millions of dollars more will go to school districts for various programs, but it is still unclear as to how the funds will be distribute. Funding for local school districts aims to prevent budget cutbacks and layoffs and provide school modernization.

Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott is awaiting direction from federal education officials. He says the money might go for technology and repairing schools damaged during the 2008 hurricane season.

Scott, head of the Texas Education Agency, was selected to head a 10-member task force to develop education recommendations that could be carried out during the first 100 days of the Obama administration.

Perry, like some other GOP governors, was hesitant about taking stimulus money, claiming it could burden taxpayers with future debt and impose objectionable federal spending requirements. “This economy is in a rough state, and politics needs to be set aside and some common sense used,”Watson says.