States spend most stimulus money on highways

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. states are spending the bulk of transportation money from the federal economic stimulus plan on highway repairs and building new roads, putting only about 6 percent of the money into areas such as public transit, according to a report released on Monday.

Taillights from vehicles are shown in a time exposure as motorists depart Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, September 16, 2003. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Monday marks the 120-day “use it or lose it” deadline for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, when states must have committed at least 50 percent of the transportation funds they were allotted by the plan, which was enacted in February.

The group Smart Growth America, a city planning coalition, studied the states’ reports and found that 62.9 percent of funding had gone to highway repairs, and 31.3 percent, or $6.69 billion, was dedicated to building new roads.

“Given our huge road and bridge repair backlog and inadequate public transportation system, $6.6 billion for new highway capacity just doesn’t make sense,” said the coalition’s president, Geoff Anderson, in a statement. “It’s like adding a new wing to your house when the roof is falling in.”

Connecticut, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont are planning on spending all of their transportation stimulus allotment on highway repairs.

Kentucky is spending the largest share of its allotment, 86 percent, on building new roads.

Delaware, one of the nation’s smallest states, is planning on spending the greatest proportion of its funding on transit, 16 percent.

Projects in the stimulus plan were supposed to be started as quickly as possible, in order to give a fast injection of money to the construction industry and create jobs for workers who were laid off during the housing downturn.

The 120-day requirement was used as an incentive to put the money toward “shovel-ready” projects, namely road repairs.

Relying on the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center, Smart Growth found that public transportation projects produce 31 percent more jobs than new road building, while road repairs produce 16 percent more jobs.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by James Dalgleish