State Spends Fed Funds at Rocket Speed

Rail projects are among those benefiting from a rapid allocation of stimulus funds.

By Matt Baume
|  Monday, Nov 29, 2010  |  Updated 6:01 PM PDT
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State Spends Fed Funds at Rocket Speed

Crews work near the Caldecott Tunnel.

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Everything about high-speed rail is fast, including the money.

After two years, the Obama administration's $48 billion infrastructure stimulus package has been put to work around the state. Of the $2.6 billion that the state received for transportation, 90 percent has been awarded to contractors. The only state to spend the money faster was Texas.

Of the stimulus package, Democrats proposed allocating $2 billion for high-speed rail projects around the country. Construction in California is expected to begin in 2011. Or it might not. New Republican politicians are considering revoking that money, leaving California to fend for itself. That money is currently needed to get construction underway

Other transit projects that received cash include the VTA, which got $73 million. Muni received $90 million, which could help San Francisco's aspiring transit agency gain a foothold amongst commuters accustomed to more reliable modes of transit. Muni spent a little over half the money on hybrid vehicles, so when your bus fails to show up, at least now you know it's causing less pollution than it used to.

Unfortunately, much of the money was spent on maintaining eco-unfriendly highways. That includes repaving on I-80 and I-880 in the East Bay, installing guard rails on the 101, and installing metering lights in San Jose. The state spent $200 million on widening the Caldecott Tunnel, and nearly $100 million to replace the Doyle Drive approach to the Golden Gate Bridge.

It's estimated that the construction contributed 3.3 million jobs to the economy. But even with that boost, unemployment remains stuck around ten percent. And that's a conservative estimate. If you factor in people who have stopped looking for work, the numbers easily climb into double-digits.

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