As we put this issue to bed, The Associated Press released a detailed analysis of U.S. transportation and labor department data. The news organization wanted to find out what kind of return taxpayers are getting on the $20 billion the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 invested specifically in roads and bridges.
The answer: not as much as they were led to believe it would. While people are working on assets that are being improved, there's virtually no difference in the unemployment rates — overall and for construction — of communities that received stimulus funding and those that didn't.
Well, heck; you could have predicted that. The United States is a $14 trillion economy and the legislation is less than a year old. Resurfacing may be fairly routine, but you still have to advertise, analyze, and award the lowest-bid contract. And that's only after you spent precious time applying for and then waiting (as more time elapses) for word that the project will in fact receive stimulus dollars.
Assuming the state didn't keep most of its allocation for its own needs.
Let's say it didn't, but that resurfacing wasn't on your list of things to do last year. You then scrambled to identify projects that were far enough along in terms of things like environmental reviews and preliminary design to qualify as shovel-ready and that would have the least amount of impact vis-à-vis the schedule of all your other planned projects and that satisfied such requirements as need as demonstrated by local income levels and that might be accomplished for the amount of money you might be given despite volatile supply-and-material prices.
But you can't afford to leave money on the table, so you take a shot. And based on the responses to an exclusive reader survey we deployed late last year (see page 36), some of you were in the right place at the right time with the right project. Though The Associated Press may not think it significant, connectors are being built and rural roads re-striped and a lot of traffic signals and streetlights upgraded to LED.
Is it enough to offset job losses that city, county, and state public works departments, much less the rest of the nation's employers, have sustained as general revenues follow the economy's downward spiral? (That's a rhetorical question.)
With the national unemployment rate hovering at 10%, a second stimulus bill is in the works. The $75 billion Jobs for Main Street Act contains $28 billion for roads and bridges. Maybe one of your New Year's resolutions could be to take whatever you learned from last year's experiment and try again.
Editor in Chief