Will Cities Get Some of the Stimulus Money?

So the wheeling and dealing over the stimulus bill is done, and the spending, presumably, is soon to begin. Members of the Streetsblog Network are looking at what it means for their communities.

399491674_ba8c582836.jpgPhoto by elventear via Flickr.

In the case of Wisconsin, according to James Rowen at The Political Environment, the biggest roads serving suburban and exurban areas are the state’s highest priority, while projects in the densely populated urban core of Milwaukee are put at a real disadvantage by the criteria and time frame for spending the money.

The mayor of Milwaukee,Tom Barrett, wrote a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation pointing out the difficulty he faces in getting funding for work on municipal streets and bridges. It’s worth looking at it because it articulates a conundrum faced by cities around the country:

I don’t know if WisDOT is getting insight or direction from the Federal Government on how the stimulus funding must be used or if WisDOT has some flexibility and discretion on how to administer the use of the stimulus funding, but the criteria and process that you have outlined not only prohibits all of the street and bridge work we originally identified but it significantly limits the number of local projects
that could utilize such funding.

The types of projects and the level of detail …that you are
asking us to submit by March 17, 2009, generally requires 2 to 3 years to develop under WisDOT processes. It is impossible to advance such a project in one month. The only way we could possibly meet your criteria is if we submit projects that have already been developed and planned for…and
possibly redirect the funding that has been authorized for these projects to future projects.

However, this doesn’t accomplish the intent of the stimulus plan to generate immediate additional work above and beyond what is already scheduled.

To that end, I strongly urge the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to determine some way for the local communities that have the capabilities, such as the City of Milwaukee, to directly utilize a portion of the stimulus
funding for projects that can have an immediate impact in putting people to work.

Our $43 million in local street and bridge work would provide that immediate impact. I respectfully request a meeting with you and your staff to discuss any possible options that might be available to us.

Do you know of similar situations in other municipalities? We’d like to hear about them. Send information to tips [at] streetsblog [dot] org.

Elsewhere around the network, Planning Livable Communities looks at new studies that show just how dangerous it is to drive while talking on the phone — even hands-free; Greater Greater Washington wonders if the death of a 14-year-old cyclist will lead to safety improvements on a road engineered solely for cars; and GreenCityBlueLake reports on the growing push for intercity rail in Ohio.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It is worth noting that the federal stimulus bill requires that in states that shift part of the cost of Medicaid to the local level (basically ours), some of the savings be passed onto localities rather than be captured entirely by the state.

    And, it requires that the federal education aid be distributed in accordance with the pre-existing state school aid program.

    The past practice has been for the state to slash state aid to the city’s schools while increasing state education funding for the rest of the state — generally buying off the UFT with a pension enhancement, devastating the city’s schools even more. That’s what happened in the mid-1990s.

    And, when the tobacco companies ponied up money to settle lawsuits based on the higher Medicaid costs caused by their profits, the state not only spent the whole future settlement stream up front by bonding against it, but also distributed the local share of the money in proportion to population even though NYC had paid most of the Medicaid local share the companies were repaying.

    In short, someone in Washington had the idea that the rest of the state is out to get NYC, and tried to stop it. No such luck on transport. And I wouldn’t could on Albany getting around the other stuff too.

  • SeenThePlans

    It’s the same situation right here in New York City (at least for money coming through USDOT). The only projects that can qualify for stimulus money are those that were planned and procured by the federal process and are inches away from being ready to break ground.

  • We’re partying like it’s 1945.

  • Rhywun

    Actually, non-smokers live longer and therefore consume more Medicaid dollars (and more health-care dollars in general).

    But your point about NYC always getting the shaft from the rest of the state is accurate.

  • rex

    That is part of the fallacy of funding only “shovel ready” projects. Engineers need work too.

    Oh well, the stimulus package was designed to “jump start” the economy. It has been a while since I have worked on a car, but if I remember right, a jump start only works on a car with a dead battery. If the engine is broken, a jump start will only make a whirring noise for as long as you give it juice.

  • jmc

    Rhywun, do you spend much time in the hospital? Smoking is a huge part of health costs. The idea that smokers just drop dead and thereby save the government money is a fallacy. Lung cancer and CV disease is very expensive to treat. Strokes can cause massive increases in health care spending as they leave people incapacitated.

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