If we want an infrastructure stimulus, there are valuable lessons to learn from 2009

While there are enormous needs for relief and support all across the economy, the president and many congressional leaders have indicated that they want infrastructure to be a major part of a future stimulus bill. If Congress does intend to use infrastructure spending to create jobs and support recovery, their own effort in 2009 has some clear lessons they should learn from.

Advocacy Transportation

NPR on the importance of transit and road repair for job creation

With President Barack Obama looking to stimulate a stagnant economy and create jobs through infrastructure investments in the American Jobs Act, it’s important to look at the lessons we learned from the previous stimulus.

NPR’s Yuki Noguchi talked with Smart Growth America’s President and CEO Geoff Anderson to discuss the importance of transit and repair of existing infrastructure for a infrastructure stimulus to be effective.

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Smart growth news – September 12

Earlier Stimulus Offers Lessons For A Second Round
NPR, September 9, 2011
Geoff Anderson, president and chief executive officer of Smart Growth America, a nonprofit, says some projects create more jobs for the money. Work on public transit and repairs to existing roads, for example, generated 50 to 70 percent more jobs than did work on new roads.

Focus on infrastructure earns associations’ approval of Obama’s Jobs Act
American City & County, September 9, 2011
SGA, which advocates for increases in transportation spending, contends that AJA should focus on streets and roads projects. “Investments in smart growth infrastructure like public transportation and repairing deteriorating infrastructure in existing communities will best achieve the goals outlined in [AJA],” SGA President and CEO Geoff Anderson said in a statement. “Rather than spending millions on land and equipment and obligating taxpayers to additional maintenance, these investments will reduce future costs and put a larger proportion of funds directly into the pockets of American families.”

‘I-69 equals jobs’ a persistent myth
Bloomington Alternative (Ind.), September 9, 2011
According to the article’s author, Keith Barry, figures from Smart Growth America show public transportation produces more jobs because it requires less acquisition of land; buses, trains and subways “need people to operate them and maintain the infrastructure”; and the workforce for public transit has more-diverse skills than does the workforce needed for highway construction.

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Response to new report focuses on missed opportunities for fast, effective job creation

Last week, Smart Growth America released a report about how states spent their flexible transportation funds from 2009’s American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and whether the projects funded with that money created the most jobs possible. The research revealed that most states failed to invest in projects that create the most jobs per dollar: namely, public transportation and road repair and maintenance. Money spent on paving new roads, by contrast, creates fewer jobs per dollar spent, making it a worse value for the government’s money.

The mounting criticism of states’ use of their stimulus funds is coming from people who want to see the U.S. economy recover quickly and effectively. Investing in public projects that create jobs in the short term and economic sustainability in the long term – as public transportation and road repair do – is one of the best ways to do that. As former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening explains in an editorial in The Hill:

Past decisions about transportation spending are detours, not dead ends. While the golden opportunity of ARRA funding has passed, state and federal governments can learn the lessons of ARRA and meet President Obama’s challenge to do what is best for the economy.

Tanya Snyder at Streetsblog highlights the point that states have to make smarter investment decisions if they want to see results:

In just the last month, several reports have quantified…how investing in transportation infrastructure pays off in jobs and economic health. Now Smart Growth America is out with new research showing that it’s not enough to plunk down a bunch of money and expect miracles. You’ve got to do it right.

Megan Owens, spokeswoman for Transportation Riders United explained to The Detroit News that even though Michigan doesn’t spend that much on new roads, the state’s public transportation spending doesn’t even come close:

“We can do a better job of spending on public transportation, especially when you see that SMART and DDOT are looking at cutbacks…We spent as much on widening a few miles of M-59 in Oakland County as we did for all of public transportation in southeastern Michigan.”

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On "Recent Lessons from the Stimulus"

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. Here’s what reporters, bloggers and commentators are saying about the new findings:

Which States Squandered Their Stimulus Money? [The Daily Beast, 2/4/2011]

Sue Minter, Vermont’s deputy transportation secretary, says a longstanding “fix-it-first” policy for infrastructure and bipartisan collaboration shaped Vermont’s decisions about how to use the funds. The state spent all of its highway money on system maintenance, with a small amount going to mass transit. (Minter, a Democrat, was a member of the state legislature at the time.) “This shot of money into our economy was very, very significant. It’s part of the reason we have a relatively low unemployment rate,” she says. Only 5.8 percent of Vermont residents are out of work, one of the nation’s lowest rates. State research shows that ARRA funding employed 11,000 people—a small number overall, but a significant one in a small state. Minter says the maintenance was important for keeping economic growth, particularly in tourism, strong.

Conn. earns A+ for how it spent transportation stimulus money [New Haven Register, 2/4/2011]

Connecticut tied for No. 1 in the nation in how well it spent federal transportation stimulus money to create jobs, according to a report released today by Smart Growth America.

“Smart Growth America commends Connecticut for using its federal stimulus funding to maximize job creation,” said Geoff Anderson, president and CEO of Smart Growth America, in a press release. “Connecticut should continue on this same path of smart, fiscally responsible transportation policies when it considers its 2011 transportation budget.

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