Where are all those transportation stimulus jobs?

Transportation was the place where I really expected to see a clear line drawn between the federal stimulus money and thousands of new jobs. But the Minnesota job numbers aren’t coming close to what was predicted.

Two paragraphs from MPR reporter Mark Zdechlik’s story today on stimulus transportation projects lay it out:

Until recently, MNDOT has been saying that for every $1 million spent, as many as 27 jobs could be directly and indirectly created. But those projections were based on what MnDOT says were old Federal Highway Administration figures.

MnDOT now says the jobs numbers could be less than half that; a total of 5,400 jobs rather than 13,500.

Yikes. When did that happen? I was still working from the upbeat projections leaders were using just after the bill passed.

Back in February Gov. Tim Pawlenty was touting Federal Highway Administration numbers saying Minnesota would get 5,000 jobs just from the first 60 greater Minnesota projects.

But, yeah, the most recent data from MNDOT show only 2,130 jobs so far connected to the stimulus:

Mn/DOT ARRA project status (as of June 30)

Total Number of Projects (State and Local) 210
Projects put out to bid 98
Projects under contract 54 $162,594,178
Projects underway 36 $112,415,896
Projects complete 4 $1,374,463
Jobs directly related to projects (employees of contractor, sub-contractors and consultants.) 2,130


Maybe it’s coming. Or maybe, as we saw on Friday with St. Cloud’s New Flyer bus company, we have to seriously rethink just how much benefit the stimulus bill will deliver.

When we asked people in our Public Insight Network about their expectations, most of the 40 who responded expected some benefit but did not think the stimulus would help tremendously. (Note: add your voice here.) Several worried that the debt the country was taking on was not worth the benefit the spending would deliver.

Back in April, Brent Olson, one of our Network sources who’s also a commissioner in Big Stone County in western Minnesota, told us he thought one stimulus project — $7 million to resurface Big Stone Highway 75 — would have a positive effect.

Without the stimulus money, I doubt if Highway 75 would have been resurfaced for many years to come… So, a badly needed infrastructure improvement will be done, a great deal of local gravel, etc, will be purchased, and we’ll sell some meals and hotel beds for a couple months – all good things.

We’re trying to check in with Olson today and will post any updates.

But as we look back on the stimulus, its pros and cons, we may end up discovering that the Big Stone 75 experience matched the reality elsewhere: Some roadwork got done, some local merchants benefited. But the stimulus came up short on jobs created and jobs sustained.

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