This morning I read Brad Heath’s article in USA Today, suggesting that the stimulus funding for road repairs has detoured and by-passed large metro areas with significant road problems.

Stimulus Projects Shovel Ready?

According to the USA Today study, half of the nation’s worst roads will receive only about 20% of the stimulus money allocated for street repairs. The reason—the roads were not shovel ready and were in too bad shape:

“The problem is a byproduct of a stimulus package designed to spend as fast as possible to revive the economy. Many roads are in such bad shape that repairs would take too long and cost too much to qualify for funds, says John Barton, head of engineering for Texas’ Department of Transportation.

The result is that counties with the worst roads won’t get much more repair money than counties with better roads. The 74 counties with half of the nation’s bad roads will split $1.9 billion, records show; counties with no major roads in bad shape will split about $1.5 billion.”

Data compiled and reviewed by USA Today showed that many of the roughest roads needing repair were … let’s say … not ready for repair.  For example, state officials acknowledged that “Detroit’s roads are in dire need of work, but say they didn’t have enough ready-to-go projects there.”

According to Kent Starwalt, Executive Vice-President of the Tennessee Road Builders Association, the important question is not whether transportation projects are shovel ready, but rather, why weren’t these projects shovel ready?

“It would seem that if a jurisdiction’s roads are in really poor condition, they would have the necessary steps done to be able to move on projects when and if they did receive money. [Tennessee Department of Transportation] and many other state DOTs were well prepared for such a scenario. The cities were even given more time than the states in the stimulus bill to obligate any money they were to receive.”

This is more than just an issue of timing and money. One measure of the House transportation re-authorization bill includes the transfer of control from state departments to city and metropolitan planning organizations. However, Starwalt warns: “It should be obvious to everyone involved that the cities are not as efficient in getting projects out the door as state DOTs.”

This debate is interesting to those of us who follow the federal stimulus funds with the hopes that the funds actually impact the construction industry, the workers and employees involved in the projects and the local economies.