Minn. Leaders: 2,130 Jobs From Road Stimulus So Far

Wed August 19, 2009 - Midwest Edition
Brian Bakst - Associated Press




ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Eager to show the federal stimulus package is working, Minnesota transportation leaders said Aug. 5 that it has supported 2,130 direct road construction jobs in the state so far.

“People who were drawing unemployment checks are now drawing paychecks. That’s the recovery,” Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar, chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said at a state Capitol news conference that served as a six-month stimulus progress report.

The figure puts the state about a sixth of the way toward an ultimate job goal of 12,500 when its entire $502 million federal transportation share is spent. The jobs are considered temporary in that they’ll fade as projects are completed.

Jon Chiglo, stimulus project manager for the state Transportation Department, said 98 Minnesota projects are at least at the bidding stage and a handful have been completed. The agency expects to have all projects up for bidding before Thanksgiving and most of the actual work finished by the end of next summer, Chiglo said.

Oberstar argued that the direct jobs figure is only part of the picture because suppliers and others also are benefiting from the stimulus spending.

Mike Welch, president of Ulland Brothers Inc., a Cloquet contractor, said the four stimulus projects that his company was awarded allowed him to bring 10 percent more employees on board. He said the $23.4 million in work was split among his company and subcontractors, from trucking firms to asphalt suppliers to landscapers.

None of the officials provided documentation with their estimates. It’s not clear how many of the jobs led to new hires versus the number of layoffs averted.

State Rep. Bernie Lieder, a Crookston Democrat, said the stimulus spending has had other benefits.

Lieder, chairman of Minnesota’s House Transportation Finance Committee, appreciates that the money is going to shoulder repairs, repaving and bridge maintenance that sometimes get short shrift.

“You may not see big flashy projects,” Lieder said.

Oberstar said he’s already turned his focus to the next stage: reauthorizing a longer-term transportation bill that he hopes will be in the $450 billion range for six years.

There are concerns over the bill’s size and whether to raise the federal gas tax to help pay for it. Oberstar said President Barack Obama’s administration wants him to hold off until next year.

Oberstar said he’s planning to push through his plan this fall regardless.

“The administration is either going to come along or we’re going to roll over them,” he said.