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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (Aug. 14, 2007) - The I-35 bridge collapse site over the Mississippi river 13 days after the collapse. U.S. Navy Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2 continue to assist other federal, state, and local authorities in the recovery efforts at the site.
Hoping to avoid more of this.
President Obama continues trying to get stuff done, even with the Republican-controlled House alternating between obstruction and recess and the Senate being, well, the Senate. On Friday, the administration announced that money that had been earmarked between 2003 and 2006 for state highway projects can be reallocated to eligible projects. That's $473 million sitting unused that will now go creating jobs and improving infrastructure. Monday, the administration announced that four transportation projects would be expedited.

The projects to be expedited are a bridge between Washington and Oregon and one in Maine, and rail projects in North Dakota and Washington. In other words, no one can accuse this move of being targeted at swing states. That's also true of the earmark money being released—the two states with the largest unused balances are notable non-swing states Alabama and California.

Swing states will also see some money freed up: Florida will be able to reallocate more than $11 million and Ohio more than $12 million. Whether those states' Republican governors will be willing to put the money to good use is another question. But there is a stick along with the money carrot. States that don't identify projects and obligate the money to those projects by the end of 2012 will lose it. Instead their funds will be redistributed to states that did identify projects and use their own money. So if John Kasich or Rick Scott doesn't want to put Ohio or Florida construction workers back on the job improving passenger rail or highways, another state's workers and commuters will benefit.

One interesting note is that Massachusetts, where Mitt Romney was governor during the years this unused money was earmarked, has the seventh-highest amount of money sitting unspent, with nearly $19 million.

This money is a tiny drop in the ocean of need for work on American transportation infrastructure and for construction jobs. But spent smart—which means spent on public transit or on road repair, rather than on new road construction—this money could create thousands of construction jobs. Republican politicians say suggest the timing of this move by Obama shows it's political. I'd suggest if they didn't want $473 million in old earmarks to be a useful political move for Democrats, Republicans might have thought about not blocking all the more significant jobs bills the president suggested over the past 20 months.

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