Democrats Eye Infrastructure Spending for Stimulus

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have long identified Americas antiquated bridges, tunnels and transit centers as ideal for federal spending proposals to create jobs.

An advocate of increased federal transit spending said the economy largely realizes the bulk of the employment benefits from infrastructure construction projects over years and decades.

We're not talking about immediate job creation, we're talking about a year, two years, three years down the road, said Janet Kavinoky, the executive director for transportation and infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (An updated infrastructure is important for) the economy and competitiveness in the long run, but weve got to manage expectations in the short run.

The 2009 stimulus provided billions for infrastructure, though nowhere near the majority of the spending went to roads and bridges. The bill also required preference be given to projects that could be started and completed expeditiously which means highway funding has been primarily used for pavement improvement projects, and transit funds have been primarily used to upgrade transit facilities and purchase buses, according to a Government Accountability Office report released in June.

When the federal government builds highways, tunnels and bridges, it partners with state and local governments to identify projects and hire workers. Planning projects is time consuming and expensive, and local officials tend to conduct the necessary studies and bureaucratic filings only when there is a chance of funding.

In 2009, people went out and had to have shovel-ready projects, which was interpreted as you had to have contract documents ready to go. There was no advance warning & that there was going to be a large infusion of dollars, said Dr. Gerry Galloway, an engineering professor at the University of Maryland. "Now, everybody's well figured out that sooner or later we're going to have to address this infrastructure challenge, and people have been preparing for it.

If something is on a state's plans that they've been working for years, for big projects, I think within a year to 18 months you can start seeing some of those projects moving forward, said Kavinoky. If you're sitting out there thinking Ive got a great idea, Im going to get a project going, Ive got to start from scratch you're not going to see that coming into fruition for several years.

Kavinoky said the environmental permitting process can, in some cases, take three to six years.

Republicans, in control the House of Representatives, largely reject increased federal spending to create jobs. They have instead proposed Congress curb federal regulations, set current or lower tax rates and cut government spending.