Minnesota is slated to receive more than $600 million in transportation funding under the stimulus package passed by the House earlier this week. While this figure is almost certain to change as the Senate ramps up the stimulus debate next week, it provides a jumping off point for considering what this might mean for the state.
How will this money be spent?
The vast majority of these funds — $478 million — would go for highways and bridges. An additional $125 million would go toward transit projects, which could include bus purchases or funding for the planned Central Corridor light-rail line. Finally there’s a $16 million pot reserved for “fixed guideway modernization,” which includes upkeep and repair of existing train lines such as the Hiawatha light-rail line.
How did they come up with this $600 million figure?
The proposed stimulus package contains roughly $40 billion in transportation funding nationwide. Each state’s share is derived from existing funding formulas that are calculated every five years to make sure federal transportation dollars are doled out equitably. This system is being utilized instead of the much-derided earmark process, whereby legislators cajole funds for pet projects in their districts.
Who will decide how this money is spent?
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) will be responsible for allocating 70 percent of the funds. The remainder will be disbursed by local government agencies such as the Metropolitan Council.
Do we know exactly which transportation projects will be funded?
No. Mn/DOT is (understandably) loath to spell out details until the exact scope of the stimulus package is known. But at the request of Rep. Jim Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the agency has put together a list of highway, transit and bike projects that are likely to qualify for funds. The highway list, for instance, contains 79 projects that would cost more than $500 million. Among the big ticket items: $86 million to widen part of Highway 610 in the northern suburbs to make it a four-lane freeway, and $17.5 million for improvements to Highway 7 between Clara City and Montevideo.
How were these projects selected?
The bulk of the projects are included in Minnesota’s State Transportation Improvement Plan, a document that lays out funding priorities for the next four years. According to Mn/DOT, emphasis will be given to projects that can be started quickly and that will create jobs. (See this planning document for a breakdown of the agency’s priorities in funding roads and bridges.)
So how many jobs will all this money create?
Nobody knows for sure (of course). The Federal Highway Administration estimates that 30,000 jobs are “supported” by each $1 billion spent on roads and bridges. This doesn’t mean these are necessarily new jobs. Manufacturers of highway safety vests, for instance, will likely see a jump in sales that should benefit existing employees and perhaps prompt additional hires.
When will the exact scope of the stimulus package become clearer?
The Senate is slated to begin debating its version of a stimulus package on Monday, with a vote expected later in the week. Then the two legislative bodies will need to reconcile their competing bills. President Obama wants a stimulus package enacted by mid-February.
(Image courtesy of Mn/DOT.)