Calpirg, Smart Growth America Slam State Stimulus Spending

When the government passed the stimulus bill last spring, it set a 120 day deadline for states to allocate at least half of transportation funds in the bill. As that deadline passes today, CALPIRG and Smart Growth America released a report detailing how California is spending its stimulus dollars.

The news isn’t good.  Despite pretty rhetoric about trying to ween the state off its car-dependency, California is actually spending more of its stimulus funds on highway projects, and highway widenings, than the national average.

6_29_09_calpirg.jpgChart: California Public Interest Research Group

That California’s roads aren’t in great shape isn’t news to anyone that lives here, yet the Golden State is spending more money on adding more highway capacity than 41 other states. Eleven other states, including the progressive transportation hotbeds of South Dakota and Alaska, didn’t spend a dime on highway expansion.  Meanwhile, California is home to the highway widening that is sucking up more stimulus dollars than any other highway project in the country right here in Southern California.

Of course, using stimulus funds to further the destructive cycle of highway widening isn’t just bad transportation policy; it’s also bad use of stimulus funds.  Highway widenings are one of the least effective transportation projects when it comes to injecting money into local economies.  A greater percentage of the funds will be used for asphalt and equipment than funding local workers than "fix-it" or other projects.

California didn’t just fail to lead the way on curtailing highway expansion, it also failed to take the lead on transit growth as well. That a state government led by a Governor who jet-commutes to work while robbing taxes dedicated to transit to balance the state budget shouldn’t be a surprise, but in its press release, CALPIRG notes that there is plenty of support from the Californians that don’t own private jets.

When asked in a poll by the National Association of Realtors how they would spend the recovery money, a very strong majority of Americans (80%) said they prefer that stimulus transportation funding be used for repairing roadways and bridges and for public transportation. The public wants a balanced transportation system, as evidenced by local ballot measures like Measure R in Los Angeles to build more public transportation, and the statewide high-speed rail ballot measure passed last fall.

The stimulus provided a chance for states and transportation agencies to begin to make the kind of changes that people are crying out for when it comes to transportation planning.  Few states seem to have made that commitment, and sadly California isn’t one of them.

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