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And in the $820 billion stimulus package, about 10 percent of that money is for building or rebuilding roads - roads, highways, bridges. With the Senate getting underway next week, interest groups are jockeying for their share of those projects. And NPR's Yuki Noguchi has this report on what they're saying.
YUKI NOGUCHI: Las Vegas's city center is a towering mix of buildings that, when complete, will span nearly 70 acres and employ some 12,000 people. It's the largest private construction project in North America. But around the rest of the country, cranes and backhoes lie mostly idle. Here in Washington, I asked Tom Carter to recall the last time he saw a cement mixer.
Mr. TOM CARTER (Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association): Well, there's not (Laughing) there's not a lot of building right now.
NOGUCHI: Carter is senior vice president of government affairs for the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, because in and around Washington, you can find associations representing just about every interest group. Carter's the pitchman arguing for as big a piece of the stimulus for the concrete industry as possible.
Mr. CARTER: There was a study that was done in Atlanta that estimated that replacing all the dark-colored pavement in the city with light-colored pavement would reduce ambient summer temperatures by seven degrees.
NOGUCHI: Carter says vehicles get better gas mileage on concrete, whereas cars tend to sink into asphalt. And concrete lasts longer. But he's up against other lobbying shops making competing arguments, like the National Asphalt Pavement Association.
Mr. JAY HANSEN (Vice President, Government Affairs, National Asphalt Pavement Association): Well, if you have a problem with concrete, you need to take the whole thing out. That's the problem.
NOGUCHI: Jay Hansen is Carter's equivalent for the asphalt industry. Ninety-four percent of U.S. roadways already use asphalt, he argues, which means his stuff is better for patch ups.
Mr. HANSEN: You know, Congress wants to see this money go out quickly to create jobs, create them quickly, and that's going to be a lot of maintenance and rehabilitation work. That's going to be mostly asphalt.
NOGUCHI: Making these points to Congress is somewhat moot, because state and local governments decide which material to use. So, the real sell for both groups on the Hill is this - for every billion dollars invested in infrastructure, 30,000 jobs are created or saved. The impact, they say, will be immediate. New equipment orders will help ailing companies like Caterpillar, money will flow for work clothes, materials, even lunches, to supply work sites. Speaking today, President Obama called the stimulus...
(Soundbite of speech by President Barack Obama)
President BARACK OBAMA: A plan that will save or create more than 3 million jobs over the next few years and make investments that will serve our economy for years to come.
NOGUCHI: But both the asphalt and concrete lobbies say there's a larger issue of how far the stimulus will go in solving the construction industry's ongoing problems. The backlog of under-funded highway and bridge improvement projects is already massive. State and local governments are feeling a severe pinch, which means they've cut back or are planning to cut back on spending. Given the scope of the need, the asphalt industry's Hansen says, even the $90 billion under discussion won't amount to much.
Dr. ROBERT FRANK (Professor, Business Ethics, Stern School of Business, New York University): The stimulus money is nice, but that's a one-shot deal. How are you going to sustain that? That's the issue Congress has to grapple with.
NOGUCHI: Robert Frank is a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. He says, with so many projects and so few funds to go around, projects may still end up in limbo.
Dr. FRANK: Nobody's really addressed the problem of how we pay for an ongoing program of infrastructure upgrading.
NOGUCHI: Kick-starting the economy with jobs may be critical at this stage, but a stimulus alone won't pave the whole way to better highways and bridges. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.
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