CALPIRG, Smart Growth America Slam State Stimulus Spending

With the passage of the stimulus bill last spring, states had a 120 day deadline to obligate at least half of the transportation funding allocated to them. To mark that federal deadline, CALPIRG and Smart Growth America released a report today detailing how California is spending its stimulus money.

The news isn't good. 

Despite all the right rhetoric about weening the state off its car-dependency, California is actually spending more of its stimulus funds on highway projects, particularly highway widening, than the national average. The Golden State is spending more money adding highway capacity than 41 other states. Eleven other states, including the progressive transportation hotbeds of South Dakota and Alaska, didn't spend a dime on highway expansion. The following chart gives a bit more detail:

6_29_09_calpirg.jpgChart: California Public Interest Research Group

Using stimulus funds to further the destructive cycle of highway widening isn't just bad transportation policy, it's also bad use of stimulus funds. Highway widening is one of the least effective transportation projects when it comes to injecting money into local economies, particularly when compared to transit.

Added to California's failure to curtail highway expansion is the state's abandonment of funding transit operations. Though the state's governor jet-commutes to work and doesn't seem to care about sustainable funding for transit, in its press release, CALPIRG notes that the majority of Californians want money to be spent improving transportation infrastructure, including transit.

When asked in a poll by the National Association of Realtors how they would spend the recovery money, a very strong majority of Americans (80%) said they prefer that stimulus transportation funding be used for repairing roadways and bridges and for public transportation. The public wants a balanced transportation system, as evidenced by local ballot measures like Measure R in Los Angeles to build more public transportation, and the statewide high-speed rail ballot measure passed last fall.
The stimulus bill was a chance for states and transportation agencies to begin to make the kind of changes that people are crying out for when it comes to transportation planning. A few states have made that commitment, but sadly California isn't one of them.