Infrastructure investments in the economic stimulus law are working as intended by sustaining jobs and helping improve aging roads and bridges, but momentum can’t be sustained unless Congress takes action this year to pass a multi-year federal surface transportation authorization bill. That’s the key message American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) leader John Keating delivered at a June 25 House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee hearing assessing the implementation of the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act.
In his testimony, Keating, president and chief operating officer of Oldcastle Materials East Region, cited two examples of recovery act success. In 2008, Oldcastle was involved in rebuilding a section of Interstate 295 in Maine. The Maine Department of Transportation was not expecting to have the funds to complete the final section this year, but the stimulus law enabled the project to move forward. As a result, Oldcastle will rebuild and repave 23 mi. (37 km) of highways within 120 days, and the project will support 345 jobs in Maine.
Another Oldcastle company, Pike Industries, in northern New England, has been awarded $105 million in projects in three states. Much of this work is under way or will begin soon, according to Keating. After Pike won some early jobs in New Hampshire, it held a job fair in Concord advertising up to 50 jobs. More than 400 people showed up. Pike filled those positions and is expecting its stimulus work to save or create as many as 250 jobs.
Keating said recent economic data also showed the stimulus law was having positive impacts. The value of new contract awards for highway and bridge projects in the first four months of 2009 was far below the same months in 2008 due to the recession. There was a dramatic turnaround in May, however, when $6 billion of new projects were awarded compared to $5.2 billion in May 2008.
“States are beating the recovery act’s deadlines and substantial employment benefits and economic activity is being generated, but transportation improvements do not happen overnight. We will see even greater benefits in the remainder of this year and in 2010 when most stimulus funds hit the market,” he said.
Keating cautioned that assessing the recovery act’s implementation required acknowledging hard reality.
“The federal programs are only one part of the overall transportation market. Virtually all states are facing budget challenges and many were required to delay their own transportation investments before the recovery act was enacted.”
According to Keating, the transportation stimulus investments were the first step in a critical two-part process.
“Congress must now enact a robust, multi-year reauthorization of the federal surface transportation program. A long-term bill as proposed by the bipartisan leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will inject stability into the overall construction market place by establishing investment levels and a sustainable financing approach. To do nothing will jeopardize the gains from the stimulus and lead to a stagnation in the market for years to come.”