When the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was approved earlier this year, $27.5 billion was earmarked for road and bridge work over the next two years in hopes of generating jobs and boosting the economy. Funds were quickly obligated to states that submitted their list of projects identified as ready-to-go and could provide immediate jobs.
The reality of this notion is that it still takes time to put actual construction projects in motion. While this has certainly been disappointing, the good news is that those job-saving or job-creating projects are finally working their way through the process and many states and regions are starting to see stimulus funds finally working.
According to reports tracking stimulus activity, jobs created or saved during July increased by more than 50% over June activity. Over 75,000 jobs were created or sustained in July as a result of stimulus funding for water, highway and public transportation projects compared to fewer than 50,000 jobs in June.
According to a recent Data Digest report from Associated General Contractors of America, "States have obligated 70% of highway stimulus funds for 6,929 projects as of August 31 (based on figures released by the Federal Highway Administration). However, only 5% of the funds had been expended."
Obviously, the momentum should continue to build as approved funding continues to make its way to states with approved projects. By next spring stimulus-funded projects should be fully loaded, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
Passage of a substantial multi-year highway reauthorization bill this year would not only address the surface transportation needs of this country, but also continue to build on the strong employment initiative that the stimulus funding was intended to do. If our elected officials are keeping an eye on how stimulus funding is saving and creating construction jobs in industries dedicated to maintaining and improving our infrastructure, they will realize that type of funding is one of the best investments taxpayers can make. We'll need to keep reminding them of that fact, and also point out that without strong funding from a new federal highway bill much of the momentum gained with stimulus funding will be lost.
And with the recent American Society of Civil Engineers' America's Infrastructure Report Card giving our current road conditions a D-, requiring more than double the current spending level of $70 billion annually to achieve substantial improvements, now is not the time to delay necessary funding.
Stimulus funding and a new highway bill is not the complete answer to economic recovery, but it does provide tangible results - safer and efficient highways and jobs. In recent state voter polling results, taxpayers time and again have expressed their approval of increased funding for highway improvement projects. The investment benefits all of us who rely on safe and efficient roads; and increasing job opportunities will provide income needed to increase consumer spending, which economists say is essential for economic recovery.
Let's all do our part by promoting continued investment to support an improved infrastructure and more jobs for a healthy economy.
Greg Udelhofen, Editor