Currently viewing the tag: "Stimulus Package"

Thanks to Vicki Mallette, Director of Miami-Dade Communications for sending us this email:

We’ve added new features to the county’s recovery website where you can track the grants and specific projects in public works, water & sewer, transit, seaport, etc.  We’ll be updating the site monthly.  Thought your readers might be interested.

Track away readers!

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A good friend sent me this letter, written by INTBAU, an organization that advocates traditional building, and signed by CNU president John Norquist, among other advocates.  It relates to the stimulus package and how the federal government can make a real difference in institutionalizing the shift toward compact, walkable communities.

Here is an excerpt, you can read the full text here.

Recent research has shown clearly that the way we build our cities and towns has a powerful effect on carbon emissions and climate change. Sprawling, fragmented suburbs generate much greater emissions per capita than compact, walkable, livable cities and towns. A combination of smart development, infill, retrofit, cogeneration and building-scale efficiencies could have an enormous impact on energy and emissions in a sector that contributes as much as 70% of energy consumption in United States.

Thus it appears there is an important connection to be developed between the stimulus spending for infrastructure, the challenge of climate change, and the development of sustainable prosperity through a wiser kind of low-carbon economy. Your administration has already identified this link and we are deeply appreciative of that recognition. Yet issues related to urban planning and architecture are seen as disconnected from other pressing issues. It is not easy to understand the importance of these factors, because they are systemic and slow to change; but for that very reason they are also persistent, and have a powerful cumulative effect. They shape our future prosperity and well-being in profound ways. Therefore we believe we must all do a better job understanding and managing the growth of our built environment - what Jane Jacobs memorably called “the kind of problem a city is.” Change on such a large scale is difficult, but that is why it needs to come from the top – from the President - and at the same time it has to grow bottomup from the grassroots level.

We therefore suggest the following priorities for national action on this topic:
Short-term goals:
1) Continue to develop measurement criteria and incentives to guide stimulus spending, with extra incentives for lower carbon scores, and penalties for higher scores, using broad metrics (not just transportation). Target stimulus spending for pilot projects that create awareness of the benefits of walkable neighborhood planning and sustainable neighborhood lifestyles.
2) Prioritize additional projects that improve and build upon existing low-carbon areas and assets, particularly historic and transit-served areas.
3) Prioritize the retrofit and conservation of the best existing buildings and neighborhoods.
4) Continue funding for large-scale public transportation projects, but tied closely to smarter regional development patterns.
5) Develop collaborative support for innovative new state programs, such as the implementation of California’s landmark AB32 and SB375 laws.
6) Establish a watchdog office that polices stimulus spending and other Federal policy, and eliminates hidden incentives for sprawl.

Longer-term goals:
1) Fund more aggressive research into the comparative study of urban forms and their benefits, particularly with regard to climate change, human health and economic sustainability.
2) Fund research and development of new tools and strategies to modify and retrofit cities and towns with low-carbon systems, with the aim of carbon reduction and economic development.
3) Fund the study and research of the value of humane and sustainable place making which respects local culture, heritage, ecology and economy.
4) Fund research to identify the hidden costs of sprawl, and strategies to price these real costs.
5) Implement new tools to finance and incentivize low-carbon neighborhood development, such as pricing signals, credits, urban codes, certifications, and related resources.
6) Encourage more demonstration projects that show that a lower-carbon lifestyle can actually be more enjoyable. Develop policies that acknowledge that beautiful places are more likely to be lived in, loved, cared for, and sustained over time.

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Infrastructure stimulus funds are coming from two different sections of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, one is for transit & the other for highways. Although the MPO prioritized certain projects at the last meeting, we still don’t know exactly which projects will be funded. This is how funding is distributed in Miami-Dade:


$132 million in Transit Capital Assistance to be divided between Surface Transportation Projects (80%) and Transit Projects (with Miami Dade transit getting 80% and municipalities getting 20%).

$5.3 million Fixed-Guideway Infrastructure Investment

$0.00 million Capital Investment Grants (out of possible $700m)


$126 million from the FDOT for highways, roads & bridges.

$5.5 million for transportation enhancement - only to be used for pedestrian improvements, bike lanes, & trails.


The transit stimulus comes at an unfortunate time for MDT because of its Medium rating with the FTA. Stimulus funds are allocated within existing funding programs, which means that Miami-Dade is missing out on money from the Capital Investment Grants program (which operates under the new starts/small starts rules). Too bad.

Carlos Gimenez pushed for the 20% municipal share, which I’m torn about since municipalities tend to spend the money on road projects (just look at what gets funded by the PTP’s $200 million annual municipal share). In this case it makes political sense to get small local projects off the ground so that you can put a sign on them and say “See, this is where we spent your money - on this sign!”

Lets face it, the majority of people are never going to notice the millions going to the intermodal center, or the $112 million going to the airport viaduct - and that’s ok as long as they see something happening in their own neighborhood too.

I’m happy that the City of Miami is funding trolleys with its portion of the transit funds. There are a bunch of really good projects on these lists including streetscape upgrades to Ponce de Leon Boulevard and a tolley in Doral. Even these little projects will work toward a better balance of local vs. county wide transit service (part of why eliminating some routes is the right thing to do…more on this later).

The New York Times is reporting that stimulus funds are quickly being channeled into more of the same: Highways, highways, and well, more highways.  Kansas in particular is being quite brazen with their new found funds, choosing to build just a few  “game-changers.” I am not sure how widening interstate 69 will be a game changer, other that pretty soon commute times will be even longer.

Maryland is taking a more prudent approach, spreading its money around the state for “fix-it first” projects.

Of particular note is the frustration being expressed by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who incidently wants to tear down the Alaskan Viaduct Freeway to build a Boston Big Dig-like tunnel, and who will not receive any stimulus cash from his state’s DOT.

The fact is that the 100 largest metropolitan areas in this country generate 75 percent of the gross national product, so if you’re going to create jobs, that’s where you’re going to do it.”

We do know that a few states, like Massachusetts, are planning to spend at least half of their money on transit. Florida’s plans have yet to be announced. Nonetheless, Obama’s “the days of sprawl are over,” is mostly just empty rhetoric when such important funding decisions are made by the DOT kings and all their highwaymen.

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The agenda seemed promising at first: a mixture of large and small transit, bridge, and road projects that would have put people to work AND addressed the problem of  transit in this community. The hope and excitement I felt when reading the initial lists of proposed stimulus projects is fading fast - last week the Miami-Dade and Broward MPO’s voted on the projects pork they wanted to fund - and nothing for  transit  so far (we’ll see when I get the final list - MPO staff was unwilling to provide a copy and referred me to someone at the FDOT for assistance - great customer service huh?)  Today, the projects seeking funding by the individual municipalities was posted, and the projects are characterized by road resurfacing, and bridge repair -zero transit.

Particularly discouraging is $8 Million the City of Miami is seeking to reconstruct NE 2nd Avenue from  36 street to 81 street, a worthy project I’m sure - but is it a priority? These same funds can be used for a few other items on the list, particularly the 10 different trolley lines the city is proposing that would give people jobs, in addition to being transit projects that will actually build ridership.

At the very least, I hope that road projects are more than just resurfacing, and entail the creation of livable streets - streets with wider sidewalks, bike infrastructure, narrow lanes, and more thought given to the comfort and safety of the pedestrian than to the car.

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I came across this graph and it made me think about something I noticed in the stimulus graphic Mike posted last week.  With property values likely to continue to drop in the near future (and assuming a less dramatic drop than the one illustrated below), the reduced values will have an effect on local government coffers. The next two years are going to be rough for States and local governments as they trim services to keep within smaller and smaller budgets. The stimulus package allocates $79 Billion to the State Stabilization Fund - spread over two years. That’s not very much for states with big budgets like California or Florida, and as  last week’s California budget fiasco shows - the worse has yet to come.

Image courtesy of the New York Times

Image courtesy of the New York Times

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  • is up and running. Nuff said.
  • President Obama talks with the Washington Post, and discusses the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill, to be taken up by Congress later this year.

…I think there should be some way for us to — just think how can we rationalize the process to get the most bang for the buck, because the needs are massive and we can’t do everything, and if it’s estimated that just on infrastructure alone it would cost a couple trillion dollars to get our roads, bridges, sewer systems, et cetera, up to snuff, and we know we’re not going to have that money, then it would be nice if we said here are the 10 most important projects and let’s do those first, instead of maybe doing the 10 least important projects but the ones that have the most political pull.

  • Great analysis on the high speed rail stimulus funds from Matthew Yglesias and Politico reports on the last minute inclusion of $9 Billion worth of high speed rail into the Stimulus Package and what that means for Obama’s legacy.
  • In local news…The City Commission will take up the Marlins vote on Wednesday, March 4, but it may still be a no go with a 4/5 vote required to waive the no-bid  contract.
  • Save some Metrorail tokens as souvenirs because they won’t be here for much longer. MDT is prepping for the switch to automated fare collection - welcome to the 21st century, woo hoo!
  • Both City of Miami and Miami-Dade county are refining their  stimulus project wishlists. Interesting, more on these later…

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Peter Calthorpe, an urban planner working on the California high speed rail project, wrote a very good piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on the lack of transit funds in the current form of the economic stimulus. Check it out—it sounds like something we would say here. We definitely agree that there is not enough funding for transit in the economic stimulus bill. I would take it a step further and point out that there is not enough infrastructure funding in the stimulus bill, period. Infrastructure investment pays off in the long term, while offering jobs in the short term. Of course, between highways and transit, transit spending creates more jobs in both the short term and the long term, besides further stimulating the economy.

Many different figures have been floated as to how many jobs are created per dollar spent on infrastructure. Depending on which source you look at, you might see that for every $1 billion spent on infrastructure, 18,000 or 28,000 or some other high number of jobs are created. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact number, but the point is it’s high. Yet only about $30 billion of the $900 billion package is being directed at roads, with transit and inter-city rail getting $12 billion. Some of the other money is being directed to places that will do very little to create jobs.

The New York Times points out some of the latest additions to the bill, which include tax credits for home buyers and car buyers. I hate to say it, but this only attempts to feed our way of life for the past 50 or so years. The message it sends is, buy more homes in the suburbs to contribute to suburban sprawl, and buy a new car to drive on all those new lanes that are getting added to our highways. Don’t bother changing commuting habits or moving into the city, there was nothing wrong with our lifestyles that caused the economy to collapse or anything. (Oh, yeah. We bailed out the car industry so now we have to protect our investment. Same goes for the mortgage companies. Bleah.)

That’s totally the wrong message. Our representatives need to take advantage of the opportunity to encourage sustainable development by directing the funds to the places that will make a difference. Among those places are mass transit and high speed rail. If we don’t learn from our mistakes of spending unwisely in the past, we’re doomed to repeat them.

I thought it would be nice to start the week off with some hope - there seems to be a lot of it going around. Last week was a roller coaster ride for transit advocates across the country. From Seattle to the Twin Cities, everyone was asking what transit solutions could be expected from the first wave of stimulus projects (yes - I said first wave), and while the initial draft was not great a piece of shit, I am proud to say that one of our leaders - Mayor Carlos Alvarez - finally put his thinking cap on. Reading the letter and revised stimulus project list, I was filled with hope. After being ignored and mismanaged for so many years, our transit system has an advocate in Mayor Alvarez.  His blueprint puts transit front and center, stating that constructing the Orange Line is a priority. Bravo!

By asking for funds to complete the Earlington Heights Connector to the airport, along with $93 million worth of maintenance requests, Mayor Alvarez has made a huge shift in how the County perceives its responsibility toward providing transit alternatives. The Intermodal Center and Earlington Heights connector should never have been funded by the PTP without matching Federal Dollars (rather than funding the entire project with Trust dollars with some state funds). Not only is it shovel ready, but getting funds for this project would free up revenue for Phases 2 and 3 of the Orange line. Similarly, the maintenance projects listed will also help improve MDT’s fiscal future.

Now reality: most transit dollars in the stimulus package (now listed as a meager $10 billion) are to be funneled to cities with existing transit systems (NY, DC, Chicago). In addition, it is still uncertain that money will be sent directly to local municipalities, and not highway hungry DOTs.

Either way: good job Mayor Alvarez! At least here at home, we have something to hope for…