Thursday, July 09, 2009

Road stimulus money favors rural projects, N.Y. Times reports, but story lacks rural point of view

A New York Times analysis shows that rural areas are benefitting the most from federal stimulus money provided for transportation projects, much to the chagrin of those who say metropolitan areas are more deserving, Michael Cooper and Griff Palmer report.

Of the $26.2 billion set aside for highways, bridges and other transportation projects, states have independently approved projects estimated to cost $16.4 billion. While two-thirds of Americans live in "large metropolitan areas," the Times says, "The 100 largest metropolitan areas are getting less than half the money from the biggest pot of transportation stimulus money."

Eighty-nine small counties that only make up a quarter of Missouri's population are getting nearly half of that state’s stimulus funds. In North Carolina, $423 million in projects has been approved, but Mecklenburg County, the most populated county and home to the city of Charlotte, is only getting $7.8 million, the Times reports.

The distribution was likely influenced by statehouse politics, political favors, and formulas that give priority to state-owned roads that are typically outside urban areas, City University of New York professor Owen D. Gutfreund told the Times. Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, said, “If we’re trying to recover the nation’s economy, we should be focusing where the economy is, which is in these large areas. But states take this peanut-butter approach, taking the dollars and spreading them around very thinly, rather than taking the dollars and concentrating them where the most complex transportation problems are.” (Read more)

OPINION: This story was wholly lacking the rural point of view, which could be that many of these rural areas have been waiting for some of these roads for a long time; that rural projects tend to be less complicated, which could fit the "shovel ready" requirement for stimulus projects; that many construction workers on rural projects are likely to commute from metropolitan areas; or that a per-capita analysis isn't appropriate for evaluating highway projects because of differences in population density. Several rural commenters on the story made the latter point, and others. But we think the reporters should have done it first. --Al Cross, director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

UPDATES: In the Daily Yonder, Bill Bishop picks this story apart. July 20: The Los Angeles Times reports highway stimulus money has flowed more slowly than expected.

1 comment:

Howard Owens said...

For a different take, see this post from Tim Hens, the highway superintendent for Genesee County, N.Y.