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From the start, people have likened the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as "the stimulus", to the New Deal's famous public works program, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) started in 1935.1 2 3 Over its eight years, the WPA hired eight million people to work on 1.4 million projects, many of which built roads, bridges, sewers, airports, parks, reservoirs and electric transmission -- infrastructure that has lasted decades, some to this day. While the Recovery Act did not hire workers directly, its funding, loans and loan guarantees saved or created jobs for three million people.4 Many of those people worked and are still working on the 45,000 projects that the Recovery Act classifies as infrastructure, transportation or energy/environment.5One of the bigger of those projects, the Ivanpah Mojave Desert solar plant, will stand among the world's largest, putting out 400 megawatts of electricity. Another big power project, the Caithness Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Oregon, will stand as the world's largest wind farm, putting out 845 megawatts. Some of the bigger transportation building projects are the Moynihan Station Amtrak train hall in New York City, the Innerbelt Bridge in Cleveland and the Caldecott Tunnel in Oakland. And one of  the biggest of the Recovery Act's electric vehicle battery projects, the new Johnson Controls advanced battery plant in Holland, Michigan, makes complete lithium-ion battery systems for hybrid and electric vehicles.
Since its start in February 2009, the Recovery Act has completed about 21,000 of the 45,000 infrastructure-type projects, while the rest will continue to course through the domestic economy for another few years. While the Recovery Acts's running time won't last as long, the public good from the infrastructure it builds may well last as long as that of the WPA.
Cleveland Shoreway in 1939 – built by the WPA (Ohio Federal Writers' Project)

Cleveland Innerbelt Bridge – to be built with Recovery Act funding
(Old bridge to be replaced is ghosted-out in foreground.) (ODOT)

(From The Paragraph.)


(1) 'Economic Myths: We Separate Fact From Fiction' by Michael Grabell, ProPublica, Aug. 18, 2011

5. The stimulus will have no lasting legacy.

False. It's been said that while the New Deal left behind a landscape of bridges and dams, the stimulus did little more than fill potholes and create a lot of temporary jobs. In truth, the Recovery Act provided critical funding for a number of projects that people will be able to point to generations from now.

Here are 10 significant projects, most under construction, funded by the Recovery Act:

Name Description State Money
                BrightSource Ivanpah Solar Project                 With a capacity to generate 400 megawatts, the array in the Mojave Desert will be one of the largest solar power plants in the world. Under construction; targeted for completion 2013.                 CA                 $1.6 billion loan guarantee
                Caithness Shepherds Flat Wind Farm                 At 845-megawatt capacity, it will be the largest wind farm in the world.* Under construction; expected to start commercial operation 2012.                 OR                 $1.3 billion loan guarantee
                Savannah River Site Environmental Cleanup                 Thousands of workers cleaned up radioactive waste at the Cold War nuclear plant and sealed up two reactor buildings with cement. Mostly completed 2011.                 SC                 $1.6 billion
                Johnson Controls battery plant                 The new plant is part of a $2.4 billion program to create a battery industry for hybrid and electric vehicles in the United States. Completed 2011.                 MI                 $299 million
                Caldecott Tunnel Fourth Bore                 The new tunnel will ease traffic on the heavily traveled highway between Oakland and the suburbs. Under construction; targeted for completion late 2013/early 2014.                 CA                 $176 million
                Cleveland Innerbelt Bridge                 The funding is helping to replace a 50-year-old bridge in downtown Cleveland. Under construction; targeted for completion 2014.                 OH                 $79 million
                Crow Creek Tribal School                 A new K-12 school on the Sioux Tribe’s Crow Creek Reservation. Under construction; targeted for completion 2012.                 SD                 $37 million
                Moynihan Station                 A new Amtrak train hall at the site of the Beaux Arts monument James A. Farley Post Office building. Under construction; targeted for completion 2016.                 NY                 $83 million
                Coast Guard headquarters                 The first phase of the new Homeland Security headquarters, which the White House has called the largest federal building project since the Pentagon. Under construction; targeted for completion 2013.                 DC                 $650 million (for DHS headquarters project)
                Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital                 The new military hospital will contain four levels and 500,000 square feet. Under construction; targeted for completion 2014.                 CA                 $394 million

(2) 'Works Progress Administration (WPA)' -
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was instituted by presidential executive order under the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of April 1935, to generate public jobs for the unemployed. ...


The WPA was charged with selecting projects that would make a real and lasting contribution — but would not vie with private firms. As it turned out, the "pump-priming" effect of federal projects actually stimulated private business during the Depression years. The WPA focused on tangible improvements: During its tenure, workers constructed 651,087 miles of roads, streets and highways; and built, repaired or refurbished 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, 8,192 parks, and 853 landing fields. In addition, workers cleaned slums, revived forests, and extended electrical power to rural locations.

Work was provided for nearly a million students through the WPA National Youth Administration (NYA). The Federal One projects employed 40,000 artists and other cultural workers to produce music and theater, sculptures, murals and paintings, state and regional travel guides, and surveys of national archives. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a program designed to address the problem of jobless young men aged between 18 and 25 years old. CCC camps were set up all around the country.


With wartime prosperity rising in the 1940s, the WPA became more difficult to justify, and on June 30, 1943 the agency was terminated by presidential proclamation. All told, the WPA had employed more than 8,500,000 individuals on 1,410,000 projects with an average salary of $41.57 a month, and had spent about $11 billion.

(3) 'American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work' by Nick Taylor, Bantam Books, 2009

“The sole function of government,” Hoover had said in the fall of 1931, two years after the crash, “is to bring about a condition of affairs favorable to the beneficial development of private enterprise.” His predecessor, Coolidge, had put it more succinctly (a practice for which he was famous; his nickname was “Silent Cal”): “The chief business of the American people is business.”
But the New Era had failed, and Hoover’s efforts to revive it had been fruitless. Babe Ruth had put the president’s performance into harsh perspective. Early in 1930, the New York Yankees slugger was holding out for a contract that would pay him $80,000 a year. When sportswriters reminded him that the president made $75,000, Ruth responded, “What’s Hoover got to do with it? Besides, I had a better year than he did.”

And conditions were not improving. Businesses continued to fail at an unprecedented rate, more than 50,000 since the crash, and the pace of these failures was accelerating. By 1932, more than 3,600 banks had closed, robbing millions of depositors of their life’s savings. Every time a bank or business shut its doors, men and women lost their jobs and their buying power, which meant more business failures. As a result, industry was operating at a fraction of capacity, with production lines slowed or shut down entirely.


If you've traveled the nation's highways, flown into New York's LaGuardia Airport, strolled San Antonio's River Walk, or seen the Pacific Ocean from the Beach Chalet in San Francisco, you have experienced some part of the legacy of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)--one of the enduring cornerstones of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.
When President Roosevelt took the oath of office in March 1933, he was facing a devastated nation. Four years into the Great Depression, a staggering 13 million American workers were jobless and many millions more of their family members were equally in need. Desperation ruled the land.
What people wanted were jobs, not handouts: the pride of earning a paycheck; and in 1935, after a variety of temporary relief measures, a permanent nationwide jobs program was created. This was the Works Progress Administration, and it would forever change the physical landscape and the social policies of the United States.
The WPA lasted for eight years, spent $11 billion, employed 81/2 million men and women, and gave the country not only a renewed spirit but a fresh face. Under its colorful head, Harry Hopkins, the agency's remarkable accomplishment was to combine the urgency of putting people back to work with its vision of physically rebuilding America. Its workers laid roads, erected dams, bridges, tunnels, and airports. They stocked rivers, made toys, sewed clothes, served millions of hot school lunches. When disasters struck, they were there by the thousands to rescue the stranded. And all across the country the WPA's arts programs performed concerts, staged plays, painted murals, delighted children with circuses, created invaluable guidebooks. Eventoday, more than sixty years after the WPA ceased to exist, there is almost no area in America that does not bear some visible mark of its presence.


CEA estimates that as of the first quarter of 2011, the ARRA has raised employment relative to what it otherwise would have been by between 2.4 and 3.6 million.

(5) Recovery Explorer -
Projects by Category and Portion Completed through 2011-09-07:

Infrastructure: 21,131
completed - 12,297
> 50% - 4080
< 50% - 3033
not started - 1721

Transportation: 15,400
completed - 5581
> 50% - 7773
< 50% - 1159
not started - 887

Energy/Environment - 8504
completed - 2960
> 50% - 2560
< 50% - 2400
not started - 584

completed - 20,838

 * * *

By Quinn Hungeski,, Copyright (CC BY-ND) 2011

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well, I don't have anything as impressive as the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    things on this list, but my buddies and I were able to put together and administer contracts with ARRA funds to do some good things that will have a long-lasting positive impact on the lives and experiences of at least one little segment of the American population.  While we were at it, we gave employment to people that they would not have otherwise had...

    The supreme irony, which occurred elsewhere across the US, was that my member of the US House of Representatives, a Republican who was a leader in the Republican fight against ARRA, made sure that press releases and photo op's announcing the availability of the money to our region featured his name and picture along with heroic descriptions of his efforts to secure those big wads of money...

    "America!  What a Country!!"
    Yakov Smirnoff  

    "In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward mobile..." - Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

    by Jack K on Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 09:05:57 PM PDT

    •  Take a close look at the bridge plaque ... (0+ / 0-)

      The local pols' names are on there right with that of the WPA. Maybe any rep that wants credit for a project should get one's name on an ARRA plaque, and be counted as for the whole program -- and never again speak ill of it.

      The Paragraph: Terse news, history and science.

      by hungeski on Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 10:12:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Very nice diary, a good read. TnR (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

    by Roger Fox on Thu Sep 15, 2011 at 09:27:11 PM PDT

  •  After hearing about Solyndra, this is very nice (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Good to hear projects making it.
    Though, barring criminal acts, I don't much blame the govt for the Solyndra loan either.  It's a capitalist marketplace. Some companies are going to lose out. That's what happens, especially with new technologies.

  •  I like all the projects except Ivanpah (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Great diary and an important digest of the ARRA's larger projects.

    One project I don't like is Ivanpah. 1) The 400 megawatt nameplate capacity is misleading. That's peak output under perfect conditions. It will operate well below that for much of the day (not at all at night) and most of the year. 2) This project carves a destructive path through pristine desert wilderness and puts greater pressure on species already on the endangered species list. When alternatives like rooftop solar exist, why do we have to pit one very important environmental goal against another? 3) The Mojave is pretty well removed from the population centers this project is intended to serve. The transmission losses are almost equal to whatever advantage the desert sun brings in terms of luminosity. 4) Rooftop solar puts more incentive on rooftop owners to conserve electricity—the less they use, the more they can sell back to the grid.

    The administration is is pretty much wed to the desert solar strategy. There are several more projects like this in the pipeline. Ken Salazar's BLM actually had to admit recently it had tried to shut public comment out of the process. Meanwhile it's taking a huge court battle to make defunct (and wholly owned by the government) Freddie and Fannie to allow PACE (property-assessed clean energy) financing to proceed on the overwhelming portfolio of home mortgages they underwrite. The permanent jobs created by rooftop solar is much higher than concentrated utility scale projects. The administration would have been much better off both economically and politically with the power to the people rooftop solar approach. Instead it went with the tired power to the power players approach.

    "In text, use only a single word space after all sentence punctuation." - Oxford Style Manual, Oxford University Press, 2003.

    by shaggies2009 on Fri Sep 16, 2011 at 01:58:24 AM PDT

    •  power to the neighborhoods (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Great points about the Mojave, and about rooftop solar. I would like to see solar panels on every roof and wind turbines in every neighborhood. When ARRA was going through, I imagined that everywhere I drove I would see workers on roofs putting in solar panels -- and taking a big cut out of the jobless rate.

      The Paragraph: Terse news, history and science.

      by hungeski on Fri Sep 16, 2011 at 05:36:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent job (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This diary warrants more attention.

    “If you think I can be bought for five thousand dollars, I'm offended." Rick Perry. It takes a helleuva lot more.

    by Paleo on Fri Sep 16, 2011 at 03:14:25 AM PDT

  •  Unfortunatly, the Obama plan is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    nowhere CLOSE to being like the WPA. The WPA actually built things that had a huge economic pay off. More importantly, vastly more importantly as noted in the diary, people were employed directly by the WPA, not with Obama's trickle down 'stimulous' nonsense. The plans he puts forward totally pale incomparison to what FDR did under the WPA (and prior to that, the proposed, but shot down, NRA).

    We need a serious national vision of building the country, restarting and building new factories. Obama's plan is a drop in the bucket to what's needed.

    Dr. Isaac Asimov: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but 'That's funny ...'"

    by davidwalters on Fri Sep 16, 2011 at 07:32:44 AM PDT

    •  public money for public works (0+ / 0-)

      Good points. Also, like the WPA, I'd rather see public money go for public works, and have the wind and solar power plants publicly-owned. I don't see a battery factory being publicly owned, but I think that could be handled from the demand side. Use incentives, like tax credits, to make the cost of a high-mileage (50+ mpg) car the same as other cars, and to make rooftop solar panels pay-back the building owner within 8 years.

      The Paragraph: Terse news, history and science.

      by hungeski on Fri Sep 16, 2011 at 09:50:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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