Despite evidence showing that spending on public transportation and road and bridge repairs produces far more jobs and does so faster than new construction, most states and Metropolitan Planning Organizations "squandered" their federal stimulus money in this regard. Overall, according to a report from Smart Growth America, they spent 1.7 percent of the $26.6 billion they received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed two years ago on public transportation, where expenditures generate the most jobs. At the same time, they spent 33.5 percent on new construction, which produces the least number of jobs.
SGA found that every $1 billion spent on highway projects yielded 2.4 million job hours; every $1 billion spent on public transportation projects yielded 4.2 million job hours.
Specifically, the report states, public transportation and bridge and road repairs created 31 percent more jobs per dollar than new construction of roads and bridges, while repair work on roads and bridges generated 16 percent more per dollar than new construction. Fixing existing infrastructure generates a higher investment return than new construction because it "prevents the need for reconstruction later, which costs 4 to 14 times as much ... [and] keeps existing communities vibrant. Neglecting existing places while building new infrastructure drives growth out and means the public ends up buying two of everything." One reason that new construction generates fewer jobs per dollar is that so much of such dollars are spent on acquiring real estate, which produces no jobs.
Within these parameters, 10 states spent more than 95 percent of their ARRA money on road repair and 16 spent more than 90 percent on repair. The three best in terms of road repair and public transportation: the District of Columbia, New York and Massachusetts. But most states did poorly.
You can see the details for your state in the appendices of the report. Which did the best with their money? In repairs, it was Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. In the percentages spent on public transportation and non-motorized projects? D.C., Oregon, Massachusetts, New York and Delaware. And the worst in repairs? Texas, Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, Kansas. In public transportation? Nebraska, Louisiana, Wyoming, Nevada and Arkansas. Arkansas was one of the worst. Although 62 percent of its roads are considered not to be in "good" condition and 285 of its bridges of "structurally deficient," it spent more than half its stimulus money on building new roads and only 19 percent on repairs.
Faced with a windfall in big wads of flexible funding, too many states obviously missed the chance that ARRA gave them to fix and modernize their existing infrastructure, an investment in the future, and provide much-needed jobs.
Poor roads and congestion cost Americans a good deal more than pocket change. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has estimated that the bad condition of U.S. roads costs us $355 billion annually. The American Society of Engineers continues to give the country's infrastructure an overall grade of D- because of "deferred maintenance." Quite literally, our infrastructure is rotting away. Much of that is in the realm of transportation. After a certain stage, the rot requires not restoration but reconstruction, which is far more expensive.
Smart Growth America recommends that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation develop guidelines for flexible funding programs to the states, ensure that state and local officials understand that job creation is an important part of their spending of federal dollars and "make these job creation calculatons a permanent feature of the nation's surface transportation program.
All good ideas. But the one recommendation that would really make a difference, which the SGA did not make: Evaluate how well states use their existing federal dollars for infrastructure to determine how much money they will receive in the future. All the talk about poor prioritizing and wasted taxpayer money is just blather if no controls are put into place to change behavior of the local and state officials who decide which projects to fund and which to ignore.