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.

  • I hate to say it, because I was optimistic also, but you really can’t be surprised with the percentages. Especially since the state has been using public transit funding as a piggy bank to the point of completely exhausting it. Why not continue that complete lack of respect when it comes to the stimulus?

  • Abby

    There are very practical reasons why the state and local agencies are spending the stimulus funds on highway widening projects rather than mass transit. One very important reason is jobs creation: as much as we need to develop mass transit, it does not provide as many jobs as highway projects. The stimulus bill was enacted for the purpose of stimulating the economy, not exploring energy efficient transportation. Another reason why state and local agencies are spending the money on highway projects is that to be eligible for funding, the projects have to be construction ready. The feds will not award stimulus funds for projects that are still in the planning/design state. Accordingly, state and local agencies do not have authority to spend the stimulus funds on transit planning. The feds don’t just give each agency a certain amount of funds to spend on transportation however they see fit. There are an awful lot of conditions.

    California does need to create more mass transit. It is unfortunate that the stimulus money cannot be spent on transportation planning. Please contact your congress person about securing federal funding for transportation research and planning.

  • chris

    The most energy efficient form of transportation requires that we use our cars less, build livable and sustainable communities. I’m highly skeptical that building new highway capacity injects money into local economies any more effectively than building / improving biking and walking facilities.

  • Vanessa

    “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places” –F.K.

    Our country was new to paved roads when we created a 41,000 mile network that had unforeseen effects, so it is sad to see the so-called progressive California today continue to significantly fund new highway projects at the expense of mass transit projects, despite the laundry list of known negative effects to our society and environment. We are stronger in planning and allocating money for multimodal transportation at the regional level- why doesn’t our state reflect this? We must plan for people instead of narrowly focusing on traffic, especially since the common thought is that work trips are the reason for congestion when it is actually non-work trips that overthrow road capacity.

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