More details on highway stimulus funds coming to Iowa

The White House released detailed information today on the $28 billion the stimulus bill directs toward highway construction. According to a press release (sorry, no link), the highway spending will “lead to 150,000 jobs saved or created by the end of 2010.” An estimated 95,000 jobs would come from the “direct impact of building new roads and fixing old ones,” while 55,000 jobs would come from “the economic activity generated when these new workers spend more than they would have otherwise.”

It is also worth noting that jobs in highway construction tend to pay better than average. The typical, or median hourly wage for all jobs in the economy was $15.10 in 2007 according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But for workers in the highway industry, the typical hourly wage was $18.31, a premium of over $3 per hour over the economy-wide median wage.

Looking more closely at different types of jobs within the industry helps to explain the difference. The median wage of blue collar, or production workers-folks who do jobs like welding and mixing-comes to about $16 per hour in highway construction compared to about $13.50 in the overall economy.

This page at Recovery.gov has a map you can use to see how much money in highway funds will go to individual states.

Iowa is slated to receive about $358 million, of which about $240 million can be used in any part of the state.

The remaining money is to be allocated as follows: $10.7 million for “mandatory transportation enhancements,” $20.8 million for use in urban areas, $73.2 million for use in suburban areas and $13.4 million for use in rural areas. (By the way, “‘enhancement’ is a legally defined term for projects such as sidewalk repairs, bicycle paths, and beautification projects.”)

Decisions within each state on where to spend the money need to be made quickly:

Parts of the allocation are set aside to make sure that urban, suburban, and rural areas alike all get a share. But since local leaders — mayors and governors — know their communities best, much of the money is left to states’ discretion. And if states don’t use it, they lose it. To make sure that funds go out quickly to give our economy the jolt it needs, states have 120 days to assign the funds to specific projects.

As a rule, federal highway funds tend to go toward new road construction, but it would be better to direct the stimulus funds primarily toward fixing the roads and bridges we have. Repairing crumbling roads and bridges improves safety, the quality of life and property values in existing neighborhoods. Building new roads stimulates sprawl without solving traffic congestion problems.

Sprawling development also increases “vehicle miles traveled” per capita and consequently greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and trucks.

Spending stimulus highway money on a “fix-it-first basis” would not only be wise, but also popular. As I mentioned in my previous post, a national survey by Hart Research Associates, released last week, found that “An overwhelming majority of Americans believe restoring existing roads and bridges and expanding transportation options should take precedence over building new roads […].”

Here’s hoping Iowa transportation officials will spend the stimulus money wisely.

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