Traffic Set to Slow as Stimulus Gears Up

Stimulus gives states $27 billion to repair roads and bridges.

May 4, 2009, 12:14 PM

WASHINGTON -- May 5, 2009— -- Caution ahead: stimulus slowdowns.

Drivers across the country will have to contend with far more roadwork -- and all the frustration that goes with it -- as states prepare to launch a spate of new highway projects this summer. The work is part of President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus package and is meant to create jobs by repairing roads and bridges.

"People will see more construction. There's no question about it," says Brian Blanchard, the chief engineer for Florida's Department of Transportation. That work will begin at the same time more cars will likely be vying to squeeze onto the roads, because gas prices are expected to be lower this summer than they were last year, AAA spokesman Troy Green says.

All told, the stimulus will give states an extra $27 billion to repair roads and bridges, on top of roughly $42 billion in annual aid. Much of that will be spent during this summer's construction season, and at least $200 million worth of work has already started, says John Horsley, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Exactly where all those bottlenecks will be or how long they'll last isn't clear because states haven't yet decided on all their stimulus projects. But transportation officials say the huge influx of federal money inevitably will mean more work zones across the country:

• In Florida, the stimulus will mean another $1.3 billion worth of roadwork over the next two years, about 25 percent more than normal, Blanchard says. Much of it will go to small improvements the state put off in recent years because it didn't have enough money, including rebuilding a busy interchange on Miami's Dolphin Expressway, he says.

• Pennsylvania expects a "record building program" this summer, state transportation spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick says. Around Philadelphia, the volume of roadwork will be almost double what drivers have seen in recent years, including work on a bridge that carries I-95 near downtown. "We know there are going to be some challenges. We understand it's frustrating," he says.

• New York will increase spending by more than 60 percent this year, focusing on smaller road and bridge projects, says Tim Gilchrist, an adviser to Gov. David Paterson. "There will be an impact on the public, but it's creating jobs," Gilchrist says.

In other states, the extra money will make up for what could have been dramatic cutbacks. Missouri officials expected their construction spending to drop by nearly half over the next two years, but "the stimulus bought us another 12 to 18 months," says Transportation Director Pete Rahn.

States will try to minimize disruptions by requiring that work be done at night and not clumping projects too close together. "We know it's frustrating. We're drivers, too," says Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Chris Lippincott.

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