The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) recently began a pilot program for “PowerSaver”, a new loan that will allow Maine homeowners to borrow up to $25,000 to make energy improvements. These improvements will be based on a list of proven measures developed by FHA and the Department of Energy (DOE) that will make weatherization and comfort improvements easy and affordable across the state.
On paper, the northern Maine counties of Aroostook and Washington have everything it takes to set the stage for economic success and long-term growth: abundant resources, marvelous scenery, natural assets, a population with strong work ethics and a series of small towns with quaint downtowns. Even the frigid winter weather with its abundant snowfall is an advantage, an obvious draw for outdoor sportsmen.
What they haven’t had, though, is the chance to outline a more comprehensive and integrated regional plan, and to envision how working together could leverage their assets and provide the basis for a brighter and more sustainable future.
The following is based on an interview with Ryan Pelletier, Director of Workforce Development, Northern Maine Development Commission
Faced with economic distress, outmigration, soaring unemployment, and numbers of low-income and underrepresented populations well over the national average, two counties in Northern and Down East Maine began searching for solutions. Aroostook and Washington counties, the two largest and poorest in Maine, recently joined together to form one Economic Development District. Combining eleven groups that represent the population of 104,175, the region was awarded a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Regional Planning grant through the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities.
Decades of underinvestment in regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing these roads is rising faster than many states can address them. These liabilities are outlined in a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, released today, which examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.
Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means 57 percent of these funds was spent on only 1 percent of the nation’s roads, while only 43 percent was dedicated to preserving the 99 percent of the system that already existed. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.
“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense at a briefing earlier today. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”
“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that in order to bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined. As this figure illustrates, state have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”
The high cost of poor conditions
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Investing too little on road repair increases these future liabilities, and with every dollar spent on new construction many states add to a system they are already failing to keep in good condition.
State and federal leaders can do more to see that highway funds are spent in ways that benefits driver and taxpayers. More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report.
McKinney, Texas; Nashville/Davidson County, Tennessee; Portland, Maine; and Wichita, Kansas will each receive assistance from the National Complete Streets Coalition through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Sustainable Communities Building Blocks program.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Americans to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world” to win the future. To rebuild America, he said, we will aim to put “more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.”
A new report from Smart Growth America analyzes states’ investments in infrastructure to determine whether they made the best use of their spending based on job creation numbers. Recent Lessons from the Stimulus: Transportation Funding and Job Creation evaluates how successful states have been in creating jobs with their flexible $26.6 billion of transportation funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA). Those results should guide governors and other leaders in revitalizing America’s transportation system, maximizing job creation from transportation dollars and rebuilding the economy.
According to data sent by the states to Congress, the states that created the most jobs were the ones that invested in public transportation projects and projects that maintained and repaired existing roads and bridges. The states that spent their funds predominantly building new roads and bridges created fewer jobs.
As Newsweek’s David A. Graham explains, investments in transportation create jobs in the short term and longer term economic prosperity too:
Injecting money into transportation projects, the thinking goes, is an especially potent jobs-creation tool because it not only puts construction workers and contractors to work quickly, it also lays the groundwork for future economic growth and development. Obama predicted the transportation money alone would put hundreds of thousands of workers on the job.
As “Recent Lessons from the Stimulus” explains, not all transportation projects reap these benefits equally:
[S]tates spent more than a third of the money on building new roads—rather than working on public transportation and fixing up existing roads and bridges. The result of the indiscriminate spending? States missed out on potentially thousands of new jobs—and bridges, roads, and overpasses around the country are still crumbling. Meanwhile, the states that did put dollars toward public transportation were richly rewarded: Each dollar used on transit was 75 percent more effective at putting people to work than a dollar used for highway work.
A new report released today by Smart Growth America and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that transportation policies in every state could save money and reduce carbon emissions by making smarter decisions with state funds.
In “Getting Back on Track: Climate Change and State Transportation Policy,” SGA and NRDC found that current transportation policies in almost all 50 states either fail to curb carbon emission rates or, in some cases, actually increase emissions. This contradiction between state policies and broader efforts to reduce carbon emissions means not only that many states are missing opportunities to protect clean air; it means they are missing economic opportunities as well.
In a press conference this morning, former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening remarked:
Transportation makes up an enormous proportion of our national economy and our environmental impact: it must be front and center as we think about how to get the most out of our public investments. The states that rose to the top in this report, California, Maryland and New Jersey, are there because they are meeting the challenge to innovate.
|Clockwise from top left: Smart growth projects in Baltimore, New York City, San Francisco and Maine.|
The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement were awarded yesterday to five projects from across the country deemed “exceptional approaches to development that respect the environment, foster economic vitality, and enhance quality of life.” The awards were given in five categories.
The Civic Places award went to San Francisco’s Mint Plaza, which turned a derelict alley into a public plaza that reclaims stormwater and provides a flexible gathering place for neighborhood residents. The Rural Smart Growth Award went to the Gateway 1 Corridor Action Plan in midcoast Maine, a collaboration of 20 townships in the state to preserve the environment and economy along the corridor. The Programs, Policies and Regulations award went to Portland, OR, which has used city ordinances to encourage sustainable land use for future population growth. The Smart Growth and Green Building Award went to Miller’s Place in Baltimore, MD, which rehabilitated an abandoned building on a brownfield site to create housing and office spaces for teachers and non-profits. And the award for Overall Excellence went to New York City’s [email protected] program, a multiagency coordination to bring smart growth ideas to all five boroughs.
For more than a year, a national project team composed of land use, conservation and water quality experts engaged a diverse group of Maine state agencies, public water systems, and others interested in conserving land to protect water resources in a series of workshops that form the foundation of an action plan to provide guidance regarding steps the state can take to align land use and drinking water programs to better protect drinking water sources.