With the 111th Congress officially begun and President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration near, construction industry and state officials are hungering for details of the promised economic-stimulus plan. But it’s still uncertain how big the package will be, how much will go for infrastructure and how large the shares will be for highways, transit, water and other types of public works.

“The economy is badly damaged. It is very sick,” Obama said on Jan. 5. He wants quick action on a stimulus measure, saying, “I expect to sign a bill to create 3 million jobs for the American people shortly after I get inaugurated.” Obama noted it will take time to pass a bill, but added, “We anticipate that by the end of January or the first week in February we [will] have the bulk of this done.”

David Axelrod, an Obama adviser, said on Dec. 29 that officials were talking about a package totaling $675 billion to $775 billion. More recent reports indicate the total may rise further. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said there has been an indication that about 40% of the total will be “tax cuts for the middle class and small businesses.”

But Obama also has said the plan will include aid for quick-starting highway projects, upgrades to schools and energy-efficiency improvement to public buildings. He has not disclosed specifics.

Top 10 States Under a $30.25-Billion Highway Stimulus Scenario
State Allocation
($ millions, rounded)
California 2,883
Texas 2,495
Florida 1,507
New York 1,397
Pennsylvania 1,293
Georgia 1,078
Ohio 1,068
Illinois 1,032
Michigan 902
North Carolina 827
Source: House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, ENR
*Numbers derived by scaling up $12.8 billion total highway funding in House-passed H.R. 7110, to $30.25-billion in December House Transportation committee proposal

In December, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) sent Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) a proposed $85.4-billion public-works component for the stimulus. It includes $30.25 billion for highways, $12 billion for transit, $5 billion for airports and $4.9 billion for passenger rail. It also has $14.3 billion for water infrastructure, $10 billion for federal buildings and $7 billion for Corps of Engineers projects.

The highway aid would go to states, according to the formula in the 2005 SAFETEA-LU law, says committee spokesman Jim Berard. But he cautions, “It’s up to the Speaker to determine how this all shakes out.” Based on the current formula, states with traditionally large programs would get the biggest shares of a $30-billion pie (see table).

Highways have gotten most of the attention, but it’s “very likely” that wastewater-treatment projects also will be in the stimulus legislation, says Adam Krantz, National Association of Clean Water Agencies’ managing director for government and public affairs. He says it appears people are discussing “around $12 billion, maybe a little higher” for the wastewater sector.