States' 'Shovel Ready' Projects Ready For Cash President-elect Obama wants a proposed economic stimulus package to include billions of dollars for infrastructure improvements. Obama maintains states have projects that are "shovel ready. The Missouri Department of Transportation says with federal money, it could start $510 million of highway and other construction projects within six months.
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States' 'Shovel Ready' Projects Ready For Cash

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States' 'Shovel Ready' Projects Ready For Cash

States' 'Shovel Ready' Projects Ready For Cash

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It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning. Like most every state, Missouri's budget has been hit by the recession. But when President-elect Barack Obama started talking about a huge economic stimulus package, the state's Transportation Department began thinking that maybe Christmas had come a bit early.

Mr. PETE RAHN (Director, Missouri Department of Transportation): Missouri has put together its wish list, and instead of sending it to the North Pole, we're sending it to Washington.

MONTAGNE: That's Missouri Transportation Director Pete Rahn. And as Maria Carter reports from member station KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri is hoping that federal dollars will allow a range of projects to move forward.

MARIA CARTER: You might wonder what has Missouri officials so hopeful. Well, there's this recent statement by Barack Obama.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: We will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.

CARTER: If he was writing a holiday newsletter, Missouri Department of Transportation Director Pete Rahn would have to write, MoDOT weathered a tough year. Drops in gas taxes and new car sales could mean, when all is said and done at the end of the fiscal year, the department collected $73 million less than they thought they would. So, what's Rahn asking for? About a half billion dollars for 34 projects across the state that he says would employ thousands of people.

Mr. RAHN: We're spending money on American workers, purchasing American supplies, building American infrastructure that's this foundation to our economy - not buying a flat screen television built in China.

CARTER: President-elect Obama maintains that states have projects he calls "Shovel Ready," and a number of states say they do, and are also hoping for a gift of economic stimulus. But economist Alan Viard says shovel ready may not be fast enough. He studies tax and budget policy at the American Enterprise Institute and says infrastructure dollars tend to be more of a trickle.

Dr. ALAN VIARD (Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute): It depends in part upon how quickly the spending will occur once it begins. But if it's going to take six months to begin, and then if it's going to be a fairly slow process once it starts, you're really looking at some pretty serious delays then.

CARTER: Viard is a bit of an economic stimulus package scrooge. He says he thinks monetary policy is a better way to go. But Missouri says it can have its works projects moving fast, within 180 days. One of the items on Missouri's list is the final phase of construction on Highway 150 in South Kansas City. A half-dozen construction workers in mud-covered boots are packing up their trucks. MoDOT engineer Paul Russ wears a neon-yellow safety vest as he examines the area on a windy day with sleet starting to fall. Russ says, with better weather, 80 people would be working here.

Mr. PAUL RUSS (Engineer, MoDOT): Yeah, most of these folks are being paid a pretty good wage to be out here - carpenters, operators, ironworkers, fields like that, that you have to have some skills to do.

CARTER: Kansas City companies like Clarkson Construction say they sure could use the federal money. Company spokesman Don Clarkson says state highway funds are drying up, and the company has begun to lay off workers as the economic outlook gets bleaker. He says federal dollars for infrastructure would give some real bang for the buck.

Mr. DON CLARKSON (Spokesman, Clarkson Construction): The government's actually getting something for their money. They're not just handing out, you know, pay checks to everybody, every citizen. The government's actually getting things built, you know, for this money.

CARTER: Right now, the states have visions of pavement, new interchanges, and sewer construction dancing in their heads. But like kids on Christmas Eve, they'll have to wait a bit to see what Congress and the new president will leave them under the stimulus tree. For NPR News, I'm Maria Carter in Kansas City.

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