ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block. Decaying roads and bridges, highways clogged with traffic, those were some of the images conjured last night by President Obama. As part of his jobs act, he called for tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending. But what would be the actual impact of that spending and would it in fact create jobs as the president promised? NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports on what happened last time.
YUKI NOGUCHI: Two and a half years ago, on February 17th, the Missouri Transportation Commission held a special session. They met outside, along the Osage River, in Tuscumbia. Moments after President Obama signed the $840 billion stimulus bill, the commission approved construction of a new bridge. Within 15 minutes, construction began.
SALLY OXENHANDLER: Our goal was to show that we could do that, that we could use the money quickly and get people working in Missouri.
NOGUCHI: Sally Oxenhandler is a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Transportation. She says the bridge opened last month. For over two years, it employed 240 construction workers and suppliers. Under the 2009 stimulus bill, $52 billion went to railways, highways, bridges and waterway projects. Proponents of such projects say it's an effective stimulus because construction workers spend money at local businesses, who then hire more workers. So it has what economists call a multiplier effect.
John Horsely is executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
JOHN HORSELY: We demonstrated in 2009, 2010 and 2011 is not only did we create thousands of jobs in every corner of the country, but you also got a lasting benefit.
NOGUCHI: The lasting benefit is in the roads, not the jobs. Because unlike teaching, construction jobs are temporary. Though the stimulus may have created jobs, it didn't drive down the unemployment in Missouri or nationally. In both cases, the jobless rate has since gone up.
DAN ROTHSCHILD: Dan Rothschild points to some inefficiencies in the last round of infrastructure spending. Rothschild managed a project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he analyzed how the stimulus money was spent. He says in some cases, it funded projects that already had funding from another source. So the stimulus just shifted money around without creating jobs.
A lot of the things that people identified as being the more shovel-ready of the projects were ones that required relatively low levels of labor compared to the amount of capital that went into them.
NOGUCHI: That's not to say all or even most of the spending went to waste. Rothschild says the stimulus enabled some projects, especially at ports, that otherwise wouldn't have received funding.
GEOFF ANDERSON: Geoff Anderson is president and CEO of the Smart Growth America nonprofit. He says some projects create more jobs for the money. Work on public transit and repairs to existing roads, for example, generated 50 to 70 percent more jobs than work on new roads.
We've got a happy intersection in this case between the things that created jobs in the short term were also, I think, the things that the economy needs in the long term.
NOGUCHI: Anderson says by learning from what worked with the previous stimulus, this time around, the dollars can be used to create more jobs. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.