No Drama in Transportation Stimulus, Leaders Say
The leaders of the region's main transportation agencies said this morning that they are eagerly planning what to do with the federal stimulus money, but that we shouldn't expect the money to result in a makeover of our road and rail network.
Most plan to focus their stimulus checks on preserving what we've got rather than building new projects. Metro and the transportation departments of Virginia, Maryland and the District all have big backlogs of maintenance projects.
They also want to conform with the spirit, as well as the letter, of the stimulus law. Speaking at a breakfast meeting of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, several of the leaders refered to the stimulus as a "jobs bill," the idea being to use the money in a way that creates jobs relatively quickly while still doing some lasting good for the transportation network.
Virginia, for example, has not released a list of projects it wants to finance under the stimulus, but Transportation Secretary Pierce Homer said he wants to focus a lot of it on bridge repairs.
Homer, like the other transportation leaders, welcomed the stimulus money while noting that it won't offset some of the big cuts that transportation departments have made in the past year because of declining government revenue.
Virginia, he said, plans to close half of the highway rest areas in the state, among other cost saving measures. "Bread and butter services will be compromised" by these recession-driven cuts.
You may get a different idea over the next few months if you're just watching the big projects in Virginia. "We're about to embark on one of the most disruptive construction seasons in the history of Virginia," Homer said. What he means is that the big projects will crank up: the HOT lanes on the Capital Beltway, the Telegraph Road interchange, the fourth lane on I-95 and the Dulles rail project.
"On big stuff, there's progress," Homer said.
The big hit will come in the money that the state government normally spreads around to spend on lower profile projects, like turn lanes and intersection upgrades, that have a big impact on many commutes.
One place where it's at least possible we'll see stimulus financing for a big project: Gabe Klein, the new director of the District Department of Transportation, said DC is trying to decide whether to spread its stimulus money around on many small but needed projects, or focus on one or two big ones. A big one could include reconstruction of the 11th Street Bridge.
But there are a lot of smaller projects in the $1 million to $7 million range that also are competing for attention, he said.
Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari his state might be able to use the stimulus money to make up for about a third of the work already cut from Maryland's transportation spending program because of declining revenues.
People often ask if hard times make any difference on the progress of the Intercounty Connector. No, Porcari says, it's fully funded and construction is already far along. The Purple Line transitway project also has money for design. The next big financing issue on that one is whether the federal government will include it in the New Starts program.
Metro General Manager John B. Catoe Jr.spoke to the Board of Trade group about the stimulus money just 24 hours after he had outlined potential service cuts to the Metro Board of Directors. Also yesterday, Metro started notifying more than 100 employees that they will be laid off because of the transit authority's budget problems.
Metro already has won approval from the region's Transportation Planning Board for a spending program that would use $230 million in stimulus funds for a variety of projects that include track repairs for the oldest part of the rail system and the replacement of the oldest buses in the fleet.
February 20, 2009; 11:53 AM ET
Categories: Construction , Transportation Politics
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