Transportation Stimulus Projects Should Reflect Modern Economy

A New York Times analysis of over 5,000 transportation-related stimulus projects released todayFour-lane rural road near Fort Ripley, MN indicates that less than half of the funds are slated for investment in metropolitan areas. The analysis suggests that these transportation investments have been selected based on formula as opposed to what the American economy of today looks like.

As I’ve recounted at the Cents of Place in the past, the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas:

• Use 12% of the U.S. land area;

• House and employ 65% of our population;

• Generate 78% of patent filings; and

• Create 75% of total U.S. economic activity.

The report shows that the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, while producing 1.36% of the country’s economic activity, is the location of 0.72% of the transportation-related stimulus projects authorized. Readers will note that the seven-county metro area contains just 12% of the state’s total lane miles. So doesn’t it make sense that stimulus funds reflect lane miles?

In its most succinct form, the answer may well be no. Here’s why: The federal stimulus legislation will provide capital grants to build, renovate, and replace transportation infrastructure – but it does not fundamentally address how state and local governments will pay for maintenance and operations. Over 87% of Minnesota’s total lane miles are county, township and city streets, paid for from limited state and local sources. Overbuilding may create long-term costs that will stifle prosperity in greater Minnesota, not the reverse.

Just ask my colleague Chuck Marohn, President of the Community Growth Institute, who provides planning and zoning expertise to small towns across Minnesota. In recent weeks, Chuck has blogged extensively about how and why our current approach to locating infrastructure investments is financially unsustainable. Moreover, it undermines the quality of life in communities like Brainerd, Minnesota, where Chuck grew up.

In metropolitan areas, the higher concentration of economic activity will allow for the funding of ongoing maintenance of road, rail and other systems, which will in turn bolster the metro economy as well as the statewide economy. Future stimulus funding, and the coming debate about a new federal transportation bill, ought to be designed in this light.

Photo courtesy of Resedabear/Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/resedabear/ / CC BY 2.0

Comments are closed.