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DOT Says Stimulus Spending Ahead of Schedule

Wed July 01, 2009 - West Edition

HELENA, Mont. (AP) The Montana Department of Transportation said bidding on federal stimulus projects is ahead of schedule, and work on the first highway project should start shortly.

The department anticipates a mid-month start on the first highway project using stimulus money. A total of $52 million out of about $211 million in total stimulus transportation money has been bid and awarded as of the first week of June, the agency said.

Transportation Director Jim Lynch said that by the end of June, $100 million will be obligated — putting the state $20 million ahead of federal benchmarks meant to make sure the money is spent quickly.

“If we don’t use this money within these time frames, we lose it,” Lynch said.

Montana has until February to spend all of it.

Improvements on Billings’s Shiloh Road are scheduled to start June 15 — which would make it the first state transportation stimulus project where work has begun. The plan calls for increasing the road’s capacity and building roundabouts at intersections, Lynch said.

The stimulus spending almost doubles the amount of money the state normally would spend on highway construction.

Lynch said that typically the state allocates $300 million in transportation project spending. Over the next 18 months, more than $500 million will be spent.

He said the state needs to have allocated $82 million by the end of June. Lynch said he expects the state will have more than $100 million in projects lined up.

Money not spent must be returned to the federal government.

“We’ll definitely be one of the states on the can-do list,” Lynch said.

He said that so far, there have been no obstacles to spending the additional money.

Lynch said the Department of Transportation will calculate the job impact from each of the 70 or so transportation stimulus projects the agency expects will be completed.

“In my experience with this industry, there will be an increase in people, and people will be working for contractors who didn’t a year ago,” Lynch said. “Highway construction, for the most part, is the only show in town in places in the state.”

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