Money from the Obama administration's $787 billion stimulus package to pave the nation's highways staved off a sharp decline in highway spending but has done little to increase spending above levels before the recession hit last year, according to groups representing contractors and state highway officials.
Highway money from the stimulus plan, amounting to about $27.5 billion, has largely been dedicated to paving and road construction projects already approved.
President Obama traveled across the Potomac on Wednesday to celebrate the start of work on one stimulus road project - the Fairfax County Parkway Extension - and to tout the jobs created through Virginia's use of the stimulus money. The parkway extension is the state's largest stimulus-funded project.
"One of the reasons our economy is in better shape today is because we voted to move forward, boldly and swiftly, to pass [the stimulus bill]," Mr. Obama said. The bill "spurred job creation and economic growth with projects like the one that I'm talking about here today."
Combined year-to-date spending on the nation's highways was $82.6 billion in August 2008 and $85.2 billion, according to the most recent figures, reported for this August, a 3.1 increase that includes stimulus funds already employed by the states.
"The fact that we're at or slightly above the spending levels from last year, I think is indicative of the fact the stimulus is doing a good job maintaining the same type of construction schedule we saw last year," said Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Association of General Contractors.
The Fairfax County project is one of about 8,000 road and bridge projects tied to the stimulus package. Construction is under way on nearly 5,000 of those projects, federal officials said.
Officials with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials said that about 70 percent of the federal stimulus highway funding has already been committed.
"For many states it was a lifeline in terms of helping projects they were going to get out there get out there," said Tony Dorsey, AASHTO spokesman.
The group lobbied for about $64 billion for road projects in the stimulus debate, but said its focus is now turned to increasing road spending in the next transportation spending bill that comes before Congress.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been tracking state spending of stimulus dollars monthly and spurring state government to spend the money as quickly as possible.
Chairman Rep. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, sent letters praising the five states that have distributed their highway funds the quickest, but also pushed states that have been slower to get the federal money out, including Virginia, which has been among the slowest to use the road money.
"I strongly urge you to refocus your efforts to implement the Recovery Act and use the available funds to create and sustain family-wage jobs," Mr. Oberstar wrote in an Oct. 1 letter to Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.
The committee tracked the amount of dollars committed to projects that are either under construction, under contract or have been put out for bid, then averaged those figures.
By that measure Virginia had accounted for just half of its stimulus dollars, as of Aug. 31, while the top-performing state, Wyoming, had accounted for nearly 97 percent of its money.
It was Mr. Kaine who stood by Mr. Obama in February along a stretch of the Fairfax County Parkway, pitching "shovel-ready" projects as part of the need for passage of the stimulus bill.