Journalism in the Public Interest


Most Stimulus Money for Repaving Roads

veeliam/Flickr Less than 6 percent of the stimulus money approved for highway projects so far is going toward new construction, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal transportation data. The vast majority, about 76 percent, will be spent repaving and widening roads.

The details come from an updated list, released yesterday, of 2,651 projects approved for funding by the U.S. Department of Transportation. We first reported on the data last month after President Obama announced the 2,000th stimulus transportation project. Since then, more projects have been given the green light, and DOT has committed more than $9 billion, or about one-third of the stimulus money for highways.

"The primary goal of the [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] is to put people back to work and create jobs," DOT spokesman Lori Irving said. "Small projects, like resurfacing and widening, create jobs. In addition, the first set of projects advanced were those that were easiest to move, which tends to be smaller resurfacing projects. We expect to see a greater percentage of larger projects in the next set."

Other highlights:

  • With a come-from-behind sprint reminiscent of Mine That Bird's victory at the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, Idaho -- which had no projects approved two weeks ago -- now leads the pack with 77 percent of its highway funding approved.
  • Only one state, Virginia, hasn't had any projects approved. The commonwealth got a late start, with its transportation board meeting to approve projects in mid-April.
  • The most expensive job is a $190 million project to widen an HOV lane on Interstate 405 near Los Angeles.

See how much progress your state has made.

Eric Sundquist

May 22, 2009, 12:44 a.m.

1. Widening roads IS new construction—new capacity in planning terms.
2. Lists from DOTs make it very difficult to determine what is new capacity and what isn’t. For example, the largest project in Wisconsin, $100 million for interchange rebuilds on I-94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois line, is billed as reconstruction, but each interchange is being altered to accommodate additional travel lanes soon, so it really is new capacity.
3. New highway capacity is antithetical to the administration’s goals on climate and on more efficient urban transportation.
4. For some reason, the Pro Publica list has none of the big ticket projects for Wisconsin, though these were approved in March by the legislature.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Eye on the Stimulus

Eye on the Stimulus

Officials have struggled to spend the nearly $800 billion stimulus package quickly and effectively.

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