NASHVILLE — Gov. Phil Bredesen says Tennessee has close to $1 billion in road and bridge projects that are ready to go and may qualify for the massive public-works stimulus package proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.
“We have here in Tennessee, just in TDOT (the state Department of Transportation) about $850 million in programs that we could go into contract in less than 180 days,” Gov. Bredesen said. “So once all the work is done you can actually put people to work. I know other states have similar lists.”
Hoping to jump-start the nation’s recession-stricken economy, the Democratic president-elect is devoting a major part of a several-pronged recovery strategy to what he calls “shovel ready” infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges. Mr. Obama also is calling for spending to modernize school buildings and make government buildings more efficient.
While avoiding details about costs, President-elect Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio address that the plan will result in the “single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the highway system in the 1950s.”
Gov. Bredesen, also a Democrat, said he hopes states will get a good amount of leeway in how they can use infrastructure funds from the stimulus package.
“The main thing is to get as much flexibility as possible,” said Gov. Bredesen, who as policy chairman for the Democratic Governors Association is circulating a letter to fellow Democratic governors outlining common positions to present to President-elect Obama and congressional leaders.
Different states have different needs, he said.
“I think the rule ought to be they’re capital projects you can put in place quickly rather than (say) we’re going to fund this much for bridges and this much for schools,” Gov. Bredesen said.
Matt Kisber, the state’s economic and community development commissioner, said last month that the state is interested in getting authority to use some money for public infrastructure needs associated with economic development projects such as the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga.
Gov. Bredesen said the state’s commitments on Volkswagen are “covered at the moment, although obviously if we could use some of this money for that and move that money into other projects that would be a great help, as well.”
According to a report issued last Friday by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the nation’s 50 states and the District of Columbia collectively have 5,148 projects worth $64 billion that can be “ready to go” within 180 days.
The group estimates the spending would support 1.8 million “American jobs” if made available.
Some congressional leaders such as U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have cited a package worth more than $500 billion.
Figures from Tennessee’s highway and transportation officials group show Tennessee has 120 projects ready at a cost of $400 million, but TDOT spokeswoman Julie Oaks said those were based on estimates earlier this fall that since have been refined and now approach $850 million.
She said the Federal Highway Administration estimates that every $1.2 billion in spending on roads generates about 35,000 jobs.
Among possible local projects are long-sought improvements from the Interstate 75 Enterprise South interchange to State Route 317 (Apison Pike) at its intersection with Old Lee Highway.
Georgia has 319 projects worth about $1.93 billion, according to the transportation officials association, but Georgia Department of Transportation spokesman David Spear said that is “sort of a moving target,” noting the current estimate of ready-to-go road and bridge projects now is about $2.2 billion.
“We’ve also taken the liberty — or audacity — to throw in some other categories,” Mr. Spear said, citing areas such as general airport aviation and public transit, including $22.5 million to help extend commuter rail south of Atlanta.
Economist Alan Viard of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington-based research institution, said while “it is possible that it (infrastructure spending) may provide some boost to the economy, it’s important to be realistic about the limitations” of such proposals.
“The timing is critical, and that’s really the weakness of a lot of the stimulus proposals,” said Dr. Viard, but he said there might be some benefits if the year-long recession lasts through much of 2009.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...