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Obama Plan: Stimulating The Economy Or Sprawl?

Obama has compared the size of the stimulus package he wants to the 1956 National Highway Act. If the states have their way, it may be just that -- a new highway bill with little left for transit.
December 31, 2008, 8am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"Missouri's plan is to spend $750 million in federal money on highways and nothing on mass transit in St. Louis. Utah would pour 87 percent of the funds it may receive in a new economic stimulus bill into new road capacity.

While many states are keeping their project lists secret, plans that have surfaced show why environmentalists and some development experts say much of the stimulus spending may promote urban sprawl while scrimping on more green-friendly rail and mass transit."

"It's a lot of more of the same," said Robert Puentes, a metropolitan growth and development expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington who is tracking the legislation. "You build a lot of new highways, continue to decentralize" urban and suburban communities and "pull resources away from transit."

Highway advocates note that their projects are 'ready-to-go'.

"Polly Trottenberg, director of Building America's Future, a Washington-based group promoting innovation in infrastructure improvements, counters that "there are plenty of projects that can put Americans back to work immediately and also start the transformation that is needed."

Her organization and other groups have pinpointed $16.5 billion in mass-transit projects on which work can start within a year, and in many cases within four months.

They also are backing a provision in the stimulus legislation that would require states to spend funds on maintenance before building new roads. And they also want to direct funds to metropolitan planning authorities and to create a national oversight group to help coordinate the spending."

[Correspondent's note: The article confirms many of the issues raised earlier by NYT columnist David Brooks in this article].

Thanks to Tony Donovan

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Published on Wednesday, December 24, 2008 in Bloomberg
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