An economic stimulus package is coming, and President-elect Barack Obama has made it clear that infrastructure will be part of it. Obama is not saying how large the plan or its public-works share will be but anxious state and industry officials are assembling lists of projects they would like the stimulus to fund, hoping the password to get those projects included is “ready to go.”
Infrastructure advocates’ eyes lit up on Dec. 6 when Obama in a radio address discussed the need for an “economic recovery plan” and outlined some of the elements he wants to see in it. They include major programs to improve highways, repair schools and upgrade public buildings’ energy efficiency.
Knowing that Obama and congressional Democrats want the stimulus funding to preserve jobs or create them as quickly as possible, government and industry groups have been pumping out surveys showing how many public-works projects in various categories are, in Obama’s term, “shovel-ready.”
The nation’s governors have told the President-elect there is $136 billion of infrastructure projects that could move fast. The U.S. Conference of Mayors followed up on Dec. 8 with a survey of 427 cities, large and small, that said they had 11,391 public-works projects totaling $73.2 billion that could be started and finished within two years. The work includes $17.4 billion for metropolitan-area streets and roads; $12.7 billion for work funded by federal Community Development Block Grants; $15.4 billion for water and wastewater work; $7.1 billion for transit equipment and infrastructure; and $6.3 billion for energy block grants for infrastructure and “green jobs.”
Highways and bridges appear to be assured of a place in the expected stimulus. Obama said in his radio remarks that “we will create millions of jobs by making the single-largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.”
In the highway sector, there are 5,148 projects, totaling $64.3 billion, for which contracts could be let in 180 days, according to an American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials survey released on Dec. 5. John Horsley, AASHTO’s executive director, says that with the recession battering many states’ budgets, departments of transportation are asking that the stimulus projects be 100% federally funded. The federal-aid program typically requires states to put up a 20% matching share.
“We will create millions of jobs by making the single-largest investment in our nation’s infrastructure.”
“Most of this work will be for system preservation,” Horsley adds. He says there is “an enormous backlog” of needed repaving and bridge-repair work being held up because of states’ fiscal woes.
A January 2008 AASHTO survey counted 3,071 projects totaling $17.9 billion that could move within 90 days. The new total rose partly because of the wider window of time but also because DOTs recently have had to delay projects. “We knew the number would be up,” says Horsley, but he adds, “This is higher than I expected.”
|State||Number of Projects||Value ($ Mil.)|
|District of Columbia||3||56|
|SOURCE: AASHTO||NA=NOT AVAILABLE|
Topping the AASHTO list is Utah, with $10.8 billion of projects. The state’s DOT on Nov. 20 announced that it was deferring $3.9 billion of highway work because of a decline in revenue. “We have a giant list of needs,” says Jim McMinimee, UDOT director of project development.
Florida is No. 2, with slightly less than $7 billion. Its list includes $2.7 billion to widen Interstate 4, from State Road 435 to the Seminole County line. A stimulus that includes highway funds would be welcome, says Joe Debs, senior vice president of Reynolds, Smith and Hills, Jacksonville. “All of us have seen a sharp decline in activity during the last six months,” but a stimulus package would restart it, says Debs. “By beginning construction, there is an economic return beyond the construction and design industries.”
Among North Carolina’s projects are the $733-million Wake Freeway, $330 million for work on Interstate 85 in Rowan and Davidson counties, including the Yadkin River Bridge, and many widening, grading and drainage jobs.
Getting all $64 billion of AASHTO’s tally included in the economic-recovery bill may well be a stretch. That sum represents about a 50% jump over fiscal 2008’s federal-aid highway obligation ceiling. But the survey may sketch the outer limits of what is possible.
Obama did not mention other transportation categories in his Dec. 6 talk, but groups representing non-highway sectors also have their lists ready to go. For example, American Public Transportation Association President William Millar says there are at least 736 transit projects totaling $12.2 billion that can be started within 90 days of getting new funds. Over two years, he says, the number would rise to $32.4 billion.
The Airports Council International-North America, citing Federal Aviation Administration data, says $600 million of projects could start quickly.
Obama singled out other types of infrastructure he wants to address in the stimulus measure, including “a massive effort to make public building more energy-efficient” and “the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen.”
In the energy-efficiency category, the Alliance to Save Energy included $1.2 billion for audits, metering and upgrades in federal buildings among its stimulus recommendations released Dec. 1. The alliance also calls for the Dept. of Energy to clear what it says is a $1.3-billion backlog of energy-efficiency projects at DOE’s Federal Energy Management Program.
“We’re looking at $3 billion” for repair and renovation of schools, says Andrew Goldberg, the American Institute of Architects’ senior director for federal relations. That is the amount the House approved for school-repair grants in a stimulus bill it passed in September, notes Bob Canavan, chairman of Rebuild America’s Schools, a coalition of education groups and school districts. A Senate proposal from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) included $2.5 billion for such grants. Neither bill was enacted.
School construction needs are between $100 billion and $200 billion, Canavan estimates. At school districts around the country, “there are projects that are on the shelves right now,” including maintenance, repairs and new schools, he adds.
AIA has issued its own stimulus recommendations, which include schools, energy-efficiency and infrastructure components. “Obviously Congress has a mind of its own,” Goldberg says, but he thinks some sort of package will pass. Still, he says the major unanswered question is about the money: “How much, and will it be enough?”