Economic Stimulus Money: What Does it Really Mean for Transportation Improvements in North L.A. County?

By Victor Lindenheim

Executive Director, 

Golden State Gateway Coalition

There are 2,569,568,320 reasons to believe California will see its highways, roads and bridges improved in the foreseeable future, and each reason has George Washington’s image on it. 

Add another $1,068,400,000 for the state’s local transit programs, and we can have the audacity to hope change is on the way in the form of new transportation projects that will create jobs and spur economic recovery.  

In February, Congress passed and the president signed The American Recovery and Reinvestment act of 2009 (ARRA). The administration and congressional proponents characterized the new law as “economic stimulus legislation — a jobs preservation and creation bill — to address the nation’s economic crisis by (among other things) accelerating the construction of needed transportation infrastructure.” The price tag for the total program, as approved, is $787 billion, plus interest on funds borrowed.  

Although the amounts are huge when aggregated, they break down very quickly into much smaller state, county, city and project-sized allotments. “Only” $27.5 billion of the $787 billion total ARRA allotment (3.5 percent) is being directed toward highway construction, roads and bridges nationwide; another $20.5 billion is to be invested in transit. 

Of that $27.5 billion, $2.57 billion is to be invested in California highway, roadway and bridge projects (see paragraph one, line one above).

Of this $2.57 billion, $1.72 billion goes to Caltrans programs and $771 million will be distributed to local authorities (cities and counties) by formula. The balance of the state ARRA highway, roads and bridges funding (about $77.1 million), will go for bicycle lanes, landscaping and such. Are you still with me?

So how do these dollars flow to projects in Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Lancaster and environs? Regional Surface Transportation Program Funds for City and County (Los Angeles), distributed by Metro, sourced from the $771 million state allotment, comes to $307.8 million. North County distributions are:

— Santa Clarita: $5,174,650

— Palmdale: $4,324,164

— Lancaster: $4,246,725 

— Other communities: a portion of Unincorporated L.A. County total share,$31,873,662.

The good news is substantial sums are being offered by the federal government for investment in transportation infrastructure. States, counties and cities will be able to fund projects that will ostensibly relieve traffic congestion, move freight more efficiently, and reduce air pollution — and create jobs and revive the economy in the process. 

Unfortunately, the I-5 Santa Clarita-Los Angeles Gateway Improvement Project is not now a candidate project for federal stimulus funds. Why not? Because the project is not yet “shovel-ready.” Under the Recovery Act (ARRA), states were given 120 days to obligate the first half of their transportation infrastructure funding. Governors, mayors and county officials around the country scrambled to position their “ready-to-go” projects for federal money. Many of the best projects — projects of regional significance, major job creators and economic drivers with environmental benefit — were, and are, in environmental review or design. 

In May, Gov. Schwarzenegger proudly announced the obligation of $1 billion in Recovery Act funds, a full two months ahead of the 120-day federal deadline. Groundbreaking for the first project had already occurred the prior week: a $13.3 million Interstate 80 pavement rehabilitation project, estimated to create 200 construction jobs. The governor and Caltrans are to be commended on this achievement. Included on the list of 80 projects, there were three major projects in aggregate valued at over $1.415 billion bringing $510.4 million in federal Recovery Act money to California.

These projects will produce substantial congestion relief, while creating a significant number of jobs:

— Widen NB I-405 for HOV lane between I-10 and US-101 (Los Angeles).

  • — HOV and Lane Addition on I-215 (San Bernardino).
  • — Construct New Two-Lane Tunnel (Alameda County). 

All of these projects will contribute to improved transportation for Californians. And, here in our own corner of this transportation-challenged state, we hope the use of ARRA funds for various transportation improvements will at least make it incrementally easier to obtain the much-needed funding to improve Interstate 5 in northern Los Angeles County.

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