Monday, December 8, 2008

What might stimulus funds mean for transportation in our area?

TxDOT eyes funds

The new administration has proposed a $700 billion stimulus package, intended to create jobs by, among other things, rebuilding infrastructure. The headline of the Austin Business Journal article on November 24 causes the blood to run cold in those who have been fighting the ill-conceived schemes of TxDOT: "TxDOT has eyes on proposed stimulus funds.”

TxDOT has “notified the state’s Metropolitan Planning Organizations to begin identifying ‘ready to go’ projects that could qualify for a new $700 billion federal stimulus proposed this week by President-elect Barack Obama.”

“ Joe Cantalupo, executive director of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, says . . . the list is in progress and declined to name specific projects . . .”

TxDOT compiles list of projects

On December 5, the Statesman’s Ben Wear said, “Texas . . . says it has $6 billion worth of projects that could break ground by August.” State transportation departments came up with their projects at the behest of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. TxDOT claims that their “list of 852 projects was heavy with maintenance work and bridge repairs, with relatively few big new roads or road expansion projects.”

Bruce Melton, P.E., looks at the projects’ costs

Bruce Melton, P.E., a member of the fix290 group, has a commentary “Stimulus Package—Numbers you won’t believe!” He quotes from Ben Wear’s article, “The state agencies compiled the list at the request of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials. That trade group’s lobbyists wanted to be able to assure Congress that if it made the money available in the form of an economic stimulus package, it would get spent quickly enough to actually put people to work right away and stimulate the economy.”

Bruce says, “The key words above are ‘trade group’s lobbyists.” He goes on to explain “What the real numbers say.” “From the TxDOT list. the Austin Region total is $985 million, $504 million is for 290E, and there are another $184 million in other new construction projects in the Austin District bringing the total to $680 million for 11 new construction projects that predominantly or entirely include new lanes, overpasses or something blatant that shows these projects are obviously ‘new’ construction. [Bruce’s point is that this proposed new construction goes against the stimulus goal of maintenance and repairs.] This is 70% of the $985 million total for the Austin Region.

"Note, Ben’s quote above—when analyzed for the number of projects is correct. There are 95 total projects in the Austin Region—89% are for repair, rehab or maintenance.

“(Note: I have only looked at the projects that each individually total more than $10 million.)

“Total for all of Texas $6.207 billion. New construction is ALMOST HALF! Just 7% of all of the proposed stimulus projects in Texas account for 46% of the money. There are some funky statistics happening here folks.

“Oh yeah, Austin tops the list. (Dallas/Fort Worth beats Austin, but only if you add them together.)

“(In millions)
$985 Austin
$924 Fort Worth
$676 Houston
$595 Dallas
way down the list
$133 San Antonio”

[end of Bruce’s comments]

So far, the Obama administration has seemed to prefer that the proposed stimulus spending go for maintenance and repairs on existing roads and bridges, and not for new capacity unless it involves public transit.

It does seem that if the expansion of 290 East is really needed and/or if they are determined to build it whether it is needed or not, it would be better to use stimulus funds rather than proceed with the tolling plan. Right now, it hard to determine if the expansion is needed, because the final traffic study figures have not been released to the public, and the last few years of figures seem to show traffic decreasing on 290 East.

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