Stimulus Jobs From Transit vs. Roads: A Tale of Two States

Smart Growth America, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group today reported that transit stimulus spending created nearly twice as many jobs per dollar as highway stimulus  projects — a conclusion that Streetsblog Capitol Hill first previewed a few weeks ago.

But as the groups snag some big-media attention today, it’s worth looking at two state case studies from the report that we didn’t mention last month. The three groups compared transportation stimulus spending patterns from Texas and Illinois, reaching some telling conclusions:

  • Texas received six times as much stimulus funding for "surface transportation program" (STP) projects (a.k.a. roads, more often than not) as for transit, but even that small slice of transit money generated more employment, according to Congress’ math: 9,135 job-months, compared with 7,937 job-months for road aid.
  • Illinois used its road stimulus money almost entirely to fund maintenance and preservation, according to the three groups’ report. About 60 percent of the state’s transportation stimulus went to STP projects, with the remainder going to transit — and the result was still a job-creation win for transit, with 12,628 job-months reported, compared with 7,826 job-months for Illinois road aid.
  • Jonathan Dubman

    Perhaps transit infrastructure jobs spend proportionally less on materials (e.g. concrete). Perhaps there are other reasons.

    Could we have predicted this outcome? If not, why not?

    As a species, we are far better at creating complexity than managing it. At the national scale our planning basically consists of shots in the dark based on guesswork and less-than-zero-sum political wrangling. Why don’t we apply the same rigor to public policy that we apply to genetic engineering and semiconductor manufacturing? We are drowning in computing power. If we built a much more granular computational model for our economy, calibrated it over time and used that as a tool to inform “macroeconomic” policy, nobody would be surprised when we see results like this.

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