Virginia Last in Road Spending
Virginia is dead last on a list of states when it comes to spending federal stimulus dollars on transportation projects. State officials say they used a slow diligent process, but some in Congress are frustrated with the approach because many Virginians are still out of work. Sara Sciammacco reports from WCVE's Capitol Hill Bureau in Washington.
Congress passed a stimulus bill to spur economic growth and create jobs. Supporters say it is the key to getting the US out of a recession and getting paychecks in the hands of Americans – including the 7 percent in Virginia who are unemployed. The state got its fair share of federal dollars about 700 million, but so far spent only 23 percent of its portion. Democrat Bobby Scott is disappointed.
SCOTT: We couldn’t get the money spent quicker but I think the money is being spent and people are being put to work, not as quickly as I would have liked.
Virginia officials say they vetted each highway project carefully. That’s why construction has been slow to get off the ground. The state's transportation board, the General Assembly, and the congressional delegation all weighed in on how to spend the cash. Officials even asked residents for input. Democrat Glenn Nye has been supportive of the thorough process.
NYE: Well it is critically important that we strike a balance between putting the money into investments and infrastructure for instance quickly but also responsibly and in a way that keeps us accountable to the taxpayer for those dollars.
Staff members on the House transportation and infrastructure committee staff compiled the list. They say they want states at the bottom to get moving. Maine for example has already used all of its money. Every month they put out a report to highlight which states are lagging behind. They’ve even sent letters to Governors urging them to pick up the pace. Jim Berard is a spokesperson for the committee.
BERARD: The idea that states would take this money and sit on it for any length of time is really counter to the original intention of the bill which was to get the money moving quickly and get the people hired and jobs created quickly.
Despite the fact that Virginia is moving slowly, it hasn’t missed any deadlines. Mal Kerley is chief engineer of the state Transportation Department. He is confident the state won’t miss any future deadlines either. He says contract workers are repairing bridges and paving roads, and the federal boost has kept many workers from losing jobs.
KERLEY: You have to look at I think in the context of the budget situation that Virginia is in. At the same time you know that we received this extra funding, we have been reducing our plan that last couple of years. Projects were very good in the fact that they were able, maybe not to create as many jobs as people thought, but to save jobs that might have been lost during that.
Some transit advocates say Virginia shouldn’t be comfortable sitting in last place. Jeffery Southard is the head of the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance, a group that lobbies for the state’s construction industry.
SOUTHARD: The old story was Virginia took a very different approach which means that were last of the gate, the new story is that you are still last, just because you were last out of the gate doesn’t mean you have to last to cross the finish line.
New numbers come out on Monday, but transportation committee staffers say its likely Virginia will end up at the bottom again. The state faces its next spending deadline in March.
From Capitol News Connection Sara Sciammacco W-C-V-E News, Washington