ARRA’s 2nd Anniversary: New Smart Growth America Report on Lessons for Transportation Funding and Job Creation

Perhaps lost somewhere this week between news of President Obama’s budget and transportation plan and Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s rejection of high-speed rail in his state is the fact that today, February 17th, marks the two-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The act, which provided $48.1 billion for transportation infrastructure projects around the country, has received plenty of criticism for not doing enough to revive the economy but also won praise from state governments who saw the infrastructure funds as a godsend during what was otherwise a period of slashed transportation budgets. And, as I reported in a CSG National Report last year, some states themselves won a fair amount of praise for their efforts to meet deadlines, select worthy projects and report on their activities. While the one year anniversary of ARRA in 2010 produced a flood of reports looking at the legislation’s impact, I could find only a handful commemorating this anniversary.

One of those reports is from Smart Growth America, the Washington, D.C.-based anti-sprawl advocacy coalition. Their report, entitled “Recent Lessons from the Stimulus: Transportation Funding and Job Creation,” looks at the question of whether states spent their flexible transportation money on projects that created the maximum number of jobs possible.

The report concludes that since states spent just 1.7 percent ($463 million) of their flexible ARRA transportation dollars on public transportation (the category that produces the most jobs) and a third of their funds ($8.9 billion) on the least productive category (new road construction), states failed to maximize the job creation possibilities of these funds. States also should have spent more on road repair and system preservation, the report said. About $15.7 billion (or 58.9 percent) of these dollars went to roadway preservation projects.

Smart Growth America says seven states (CT, ME, NJ, ND, RI, SD, VT) and the District of Columbia used 100 percent of their road spending for system preservation. Of those D.C. had the highest percentage of roads not in good condition (99 percent). New Jersey had 90 percent and Rhode Island 82 percent of roads not in good condition. Among the bottom five states (TX, KY, FL, AR, KS) in terms of allocating funds to system preservation, Texas and Arkansas had 59 percent and 62 percent of roads not in good condition respectively. Arkansas and Kansas each spent 81 percent of available transportation funds on building new capacity.

The District of Columbia spent the highest percentage (30.2 percent) of funding on public transportation and non-motorized projects (pedestrian, bike, sidewalk improvements). Arkansas spent 0 percent.

The report said actual ARRA job-creation data confirms the long-held beliefs that public transportation creates more jobs per dollar than roads, and that repair creates more jobs than new construction.  Smart Growth America’s analysis showed that while every $1 billion committed to ARRA highway projects produced 2.4 million job-hours, every $1 billion committed to ARRA transit projects produced about 4.2 million job-hours.

Smart Growth America also offers a series of recommendations for Congress, for the U.S. Department of Transportation and for states to help all of them learn what the organization believes are the lessons of the stimulus.

“Too many states missed a golden opportunity to get caught up on repair needs thus reducing future costs,” the report said. “They also missed a golden opportunity to create more jobs.”

Now, new governors in 26 states have an opportunity to change the direction of transportation spending, the report concludes.

“They can invest more in repair and maintenance and change the way they evaluate investments in new capacity to ensure that these serve long-term job creation, economic development and affordability.”