by Max Brantley
The Daily Beast has examined state spending of federal stimulus money for transportation work.
A new study shows that most states didn’t end up making the most of the windfall. The report by the transportation research group Smart Growth America found that states spent more than a third of the money on building new roads—rather than working on public transportation and fixing up existing roads and bridges. The result of the indiscriminate spending? States missed out on potentially thousands of new jobs—and bridges, roads, and overpasses around the country are still crumbling. Meanwhile, the states that did put dollars toward public transportation were richly rewarded: Each dollar used on transit was 75 percent more effective at putting people to work than a dollar used for highway work.
The government meant to get the biggest bang for its buck, with “shovel-ready projects.” But building miles of new roads requires planning, land acquisition, and other lengthy steps that put fewer workers on the job immediately.
If you guessed Arkansas was among those judged to have missed the boat on wise use of the money you'd be correct.
Arkansas used 81 percent of its money for new projects and none on transit; it also has a higher unemployment rate than Vermont. And unlike other states near the bottom of the list, just 38 percent of its roads are in good condition, according to a report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a trade organization.
The state’s approach mirrors the model the federal government uses for routine infrastructure appropriations to the states, sometimes derided as the “peanut butter” system: Spread the money across the board. Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department spokesman Glenn Bolick says the commission was to make sure the money reached workers in a variety of different industries across the state. “Our philosophy was that was how to spread economic development opportunities,” he says. “We were making the attempt to stimulate all the different types of contractors all across the state.”