T4America Blog

News, press releases and other updates

New report shows the job-creating potential of smart transportation investments

Smart transportation spending can create jobs today and grow our economy tomorrow, according to a new report from Smart Growth America, adding a new entry to their excellent work evaluating the transportation spending in the stimulus.

The report, “Recent Lessons from the Stimulus: Transportation Funding and Job Creation”, analyzes whether states made the best use of transportation dollars in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The analysis comes two years after passage of the Recovery Act doled out $26.6 billion in flexible transportation funds to the states.

The findings are pretty simple to summarize:

According to data sent by the states to Congress, the states that created the most jobs invested in public transportation and projects that maintained and repaired existing roads and bridges. The states that ranked poorly predominantly spent their funds building new roads and bridges.

Historically, investments in public transportation have generated 31 percent more jobs per dollar than new construction of roads and bridges. However, SGA’s findings show that the payoff was even larger in Recovery Act spending, with public transportation projects producing 70 percent more jobs per dollar than road projects.

Newsweek’s David A. Graham covered the report’s release yesterday and noted:

Today the unemployment rate is hovering above 9 percent — better than it would have been without the stimulus, most experts agree, but still painfully high. Why didn’t we get more for our money?

While liberals and conservatives alike blame the stimulus itself — It wasn’t big enough! It was never going to work! — the problem may have more to do with how the money was spent. It’s not enough just to inject money into infrastructure, because not all transportation funding is created equal — or at least, it doesn’t create jobs at an equal rate. As any infrastructure policy wonk can tell you, money spent on fixing up existing systems or building mass transit delivers more jobs, and faster, than building new highways.

SGA also released findings from a November poll (pdf) that found that 91 percent of voters feel maintaining and repairing our roads and bridges should be the top or a high priority for state spending on transportation programs, and 68 percent believe that improving and expanding public transportation options should be the top or a high priority.

According to the report’s state-by-state rankings, seven states and the District of Columbia spent 100 percent of their Recovery Act flexible transportation funds to preserve existing roads and bridges, and ranked among the top states. The states included: Vermont, Maine, New Jersey, South Dakota, Connecticut, Rhode Island and North Dakota. Among other findings:

  • Texas, Kentucky, Florida, Kansas and Arkansas spent the majority of funds building new roads and bridges and comprised the bottom five in terms of average jobs created per dollar spent.
  • Florida and Kansas can point to roads that are in good shape relative to other states and thus less need for repair and maintenance.

“SGA’s analysis aligns closely with what the American people say they want: fix what we have, provide an array of transportation options and make sure our streets are safe for everyone,” noted Transportation for America Director James Corless. “Congress ought to listen to the American people and embrace the kind of investments we need by passing a comprehensive transportation bill that prepares us for the 21st century. Absent action, we will lose needed jobs today and opportunity tomorrow.”

SGA has a more detailed write-up and full download of the report available here, and you can read Newsweek’s coverage here.