I am very grateful to President Barack Obama and the United States Congress (in particular, Sen. Claire McCaskill and Reps. Clay and Carnahan) for passing the Economic Stimulus Act and for making significant amounts of money available to the State of Missouri for transportation improvements. I am even more grateful that the President and Congress included a provision in ARRA that gives priority to transportation projects in economically distressed areas.
Transportation funding, at $637 million, is the largest funding category for Missouri in ARRA. $426 million, two third’s of the state’s ARRA transportation funding, can be spent anywhere in the State of Missouri — with priority given to projects located in economically distressed areas.
I have argued, most recently on CNN, that the Missouri Department of Transportation should —and must, per the legislation give priority to projects located in economically distressed areas.
My issue is that most of the projects that MoDOT has announced for the St. Louis region do not meet this ARRA mandate.
MoDOT apparently selected these projects before ARRA was passed, and only later learned of the economic distress priority.
This is unfortunate for everyone. It means that, to comply with the intent of ARRA, MoDOT will have to rearrange its funding priorities and move money from projects they have already announced. And it means that if economically distressed areas get a larger share of the funding, parts of Missouri that were expecting ARRA funding will get less.
It is not the City’s intent to take money from other parts of the State or other parts of the St. Louis region. But I do believe that ARRA’s economic distress priority must be honored — and that it is MoDOT’s job to figure out how to do so.
Missouri is not the only state with this problem. Since CNN aired this issue earlier this week, I have heard from mayors in other areas that they are seeing the same thing.
The President and Congress have set the stage for significant amounts of transportation investment to be made in economically distressed areas. It is up to MoDOT and other states’ transportation departments to ensure that the President’s intent with ARRA is fulfilled, and that these investments are made in the areas that need them.