Expectations should be tempered for federal stimulus, some officials say
By Risa Polansky
It's time to get real when it comes to the anticipated federal economic stimulus package, some local officials say.
Once the expected hundreds of billions are spread throughout the country to fund transportation and transit projects, no single area will end up with a tremendous amount — the Miami-Dade area could snag about $88 million for roads, they estimated at a Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting last week.
And governments must act swiftly to get any at all, they stressed.
Staffers for the organization, charged with local transportation planning and governed by a board of county and municipal elected officials, collected wish lists from local municipalities and transportation agencies.
Budget officials ran numbers, and "they think [the amount] our area may obtain is much smaller than what all of this adds up to by very many degrees," said Director José Luis Mesa.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Katy Sorenson made the same assessment in comparing the local lists to the $819 billion federal stimulus the US House of Representatives passed last week.
"It looks like we have that here [in local wishes] — about $819 billion," she said.
Nationwide, nearly $30 billion is to go to highways and bridges and about $12 billion to mass transit, according to the program approved by the House. The Senate has yet to vote on a package, but during deliberations this week, lawmakers have indicated a willingness to pump more money into the roads and transit components.
As the program unfolds, local officials need to look at the compiled list of projects and "pare this down, prioritize," Ms. Sorenson said — and fast. "It's going to be a painstaking process, and we have to do it quickly."
The House program requires half of the funds be obligated within 90 days, the rest within 180 days, said Kevin Thibault, Florida Department of Transportation assistant secretary for engineering and operations.
The feds have existing formulas to divide money among states, he said.
He projected Florida would see about $1.4 billion from the House-approved program's highway component.
From there, 45% of the funds would go to communities and the other 55% to state departments of transportation to use statewide, according to the House program, he said.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Gimenez called the information a "reality check."
"We need to act accordingly," he said. "It's not going to be [in] the billions of dollars."
According to a state statutory formula, the local Department of Transportation district, which covers Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, would get about 14%, Mr. Thibault said.
Local district secretary Gus Pego said in a separate interview that "statewide we've put together a request for close to almost $7 billion" of ready-to-go transportation projects.
In the local district, "our wish list alone was $1.036 billion," about half of that for a State Road 826-State Road 836 interchange.
He acknowledged the district won't receive that much, but said that "urban areas like ours that have populations over 200,000 should reap bigger dollar values… I would imagine that we'd get a very good share based on their formulas."
About $88 million to $90 million, Commission and Metropolitan Planning Organization Chair Dennis Moss calculated at last week's meeting.
The Department of Transportation's Mr. Thibault said he got the same number.
It's time to be realistic, Mr. Moss said, and abandon "pie in the sky" thoughts about the stimulus program.
The point is to zero-in on needed projects throughout the whole county and push for those that create jobs, he said — not to squabble over who gets what.
If you look at the money, he pointed out, "there ain't a whole lot to fight about."
Mr. Thibault advised making two lists, one of projects that fit the 90-day requirement, the other of projects that could be out within 180 days.
The lists could include already funded projects, allowing the money earmarked for those to back other endeavors should the federal money come through, he said.
He stressed that "time is of the essence."
Planning organization board members voted to direct agency staff to use the wish lists provided by localities to compile lists of projects eligible under the current guidelines.
They agreed also to urge Congress to allow governments to make maximum use of an existing "transferability" provision that lets money scheduled for highways be used for mass transit.