Are snow fences and road resurfacing really stimulus?

So the Minnesota Department of Transportation today put out its big list of road projects for the season — 223 state highway and bridge projects worth about $1.4 billion.

Sixty greater Minnesota projects will use money from the federal stimulus package. But will they really stimulate the economy? That package includes snow fencing, highway rest area maintenance, signal replacement and road resufacing, stuff that at first glance doesn’t sound like a shot in the arm.

Yes, it’s easy to pick on individual projects. But the more you look at the list the more you ask: Is this the best way to stimulate the economy?

I’ve heard from people in our Public Insight Network who are mostly skeptical the stimulus money will boost the Minnesota economy.

I also ran across a piece in the February Popular Mechanics where experts, including University of Minnesota prof David Levinson made similar points. Part of the problem is the federal law required the money go to projects ready to roll within 90 days. Levinson’s quote:

“In developing countries, there are roads that are so bad, they create congestion, because drivers are constantly forced to slow down…That’s not the case here. If the road’s a little bit rougher, drivers will feel it, but that’s not going to cause you to go any slower. So the economic benefit of those projects is pretty low.”

Again, not to disparage specific projects but we keep talking about stimulus and job creation and I’d love for folks to take a look at the list of any of those projects and tell me how it’s stimulating your local economy.

And you can also weigh in on any part of the stimulus package that might affect you.

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