New Study: Red Flags in State’s Transportation Stimulus Wish List

Media Contacts
Jason Donofrio

Arizona PIRG Education Fund

A new study of the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) wish list, recently submitted to Congress for funding under a new economic recovery package, suggests that Arizona’s current project list would undermine efforts to modernize our deteriorating infrastructure and reduce U.S. dependence on oil.

The study, Economic Stimulus or Simply More Misguided Spending?, also shows that President-elect Obama’s stated intention to invest in a modernized infrastructure that will create jobs and build a clean, smarter economy for the 21st century could be undermined if ADOT spends transportation stimulus funds the way it has suggested in its wish list to Congress.

“We can both create jobs and rebuild our economy in the short term in a way that helps to solve our long-term energy challenges,” said Alex Nelson of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG). “We cannot afford to waste precious resources on new highways at the expense of ready-to-go projects to repair and maintain existing roads and bridges and expand public transportation.”

Although ADOT has had a more transparent process of their requests from the federal government than most states in this study, Arizona PIRG said the spending priorities do not reflect the demands of Arizonans. In the last year, bus usage in Arizona has increased over 3%, reaching nearly 60 million rides and the Phoenix area light rail is enjoying early success.  Despite the increased usage of transit and decreased usage of cars in Arizona, ADOT has asked for under 1% of the federal dollars to go towards transit projects.

“The Arizona Department of Transportation has decided to allocate more than 50 times of its requested dollars on new roads than on public transit,” stated Nelson. “Arizona should be spending more on public transit, which not only would create more jobs, but would also reduce traffic, air pollution, and our dependence on oil.”

The report documents why it is critically important how stimulus infrastructure money is spent. Misguided transportation polices of the past have contributed to many of America’s most pressing problems. Last year the average American living in an urban area spends 38 hours – nearly a full work week – stuck in traffic delays. Transportation has become the second biggest expense for the average household – even more than health care and just behind housing costs.  According to Arizona PIRG, transportation is the chief source of the nation’s oil dependency and vehicles are the biggest end-user source of global warming pollution, contributing to a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The 19-state study examines available state Department of Transportation wish lists sent to Congress as part of the development of the next economic recovery package. The 19 state transportation lists for “ready-to-go” projects indicate that:

  • Despite increasing transit ridership nationwide, on average, the states would spend only seventeen percent of funds on public transit or intercity rail projects. Seven of the sixteen states would allocate 1 percent or less to transit or intercity rail, including four that would allocate nothing at all.
  • In spite of hundreds of billions of dollars in backlogged maintenance and repair for crumbling infrastructure, more than half of transportation funds would flow to highway projects to build new or wider highways. A third of states would spend less than a quarter of road funds to protect and restore existing bridges and roads.
  •  Most states have not disclosed their transportation wish lists for public scrutiny, leaving most citizens in the dark about how their tax dollars might be spent.

The report calls on state leaders, Congress and the Obama Administration to apply the following principles to the writing and implementation of the next federal economic recovery legislation:

(1)   Highways should receive no more funds than the combined total for public transit, intercity rail, and bicycle and pedestrian projects;

(2)   Any road funds should go first to maintenance and repair of structurally deficient bridges and roads, not new highways or lanes;

(3)   Public transportation funds should include support for operations so agencies can accommodate rising demand;

(4)   Surface Transportation Program highway funds should be distributed as under current law so that a portion of resources flow directly to metropolitan areas that know best about which local projects are needed;

(5)   All states, cities, and agencies should publicly disclose the stimulus lists they have submitted; and

(6)   Direct recipients of stimulus funds should report on how money was spent and any transportation spending that it displaced.

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