Report: Keep Mass On Track

Massachusetts and the Stimulus

An Appraisal of Transportation Spending

120 day stimulus deadline: time to ask “how is the money being spent?”

June 29th marks the 120-day deadline for states to commit at least 50% of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s (ARRA) $26.6 billion in transportation funds. It provides a vantage point to examine how states are using the money, with a particular focus on the $438 million apportioned to Massachusetts.  

Massachusetts’s choices about which projects to support with its largest and most flexible source of transportation funding shows that the commonwealth is generally doing a good job at using those funds to make progress on the objectives of the economic recovery act.

While there is clearly room for improvement, the commonwealth has done a relatively better job than most other states at spending flexible stimulus funds in ways that will generate jobs and advance the commonwealth’s needs for the future.  The commonwealth should also be commended for taking advantage of the ARRA high-speed rail program to prepare proposals for high-speed rail funding.

“Fix-It-First” Priorities
In Massachusetts, 75 percent of the money committed to roads and bridges will go to repair and restoration projects instead of new highways.  Nationally, the average among all of the states was 67 percent.

Massachusetts is smart to prioritize fixing existing roads and bridges before building new ones for a number of reasons:
•    In general, road and bridge repairs produce 16 percent more jobs respectively than construction of new roads and bridges;
•    On average, repair and maintenance projects spend money and create jobs faster than projects that add new capacity; 
•    Roads and bridges in the commonwealth are in serious need of repair.  Best estimates show that 53 percent of roads are not in “good” condition and 52 percent of bridges are structurally deficient.

Investing in public transportation, pedestrians and bicycles
In Massachusetts, 19 percent of the funds will be spent on projects that provide residents choices to get around without driving, by supporting public transportation and projects for walking and biking.  This total is far better than the average among other states, where non-road spending totaled only 3.7 percent.

These are smart investments:
•    Public transportation projects produce 31 percent more jobs than construction of new roads or bridges;
•    Public transportation ridership continues to reach record highs while Americans are driving less;
•    Pedestrian and bicycle projects encourage activities that make people healthier and, along with public transportation, encourage more efficient compact development patterns;
•    Alternatives to car and truck travel reduce dependence on oil, relieve traffic congestion, and avoid emission of global warming pollution.

Likely job creation
Massachusetts ARRA spending in the first 120 days can be predicted to generate 4,676 jobs.  If all flexible funds had been spent on public transportation projects, and additional 950 jobs would likely be generated.

The commonwealth could have made even more progress in each of these areas.  The next spending period will show whether performance improves further or slips backward.

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