Which states are spending highway stimulus fastest?

The money was supposed to be spent quickly. According to a list released Thursday, Wyoming and two other states have done well. Florida? Not so much.

By , Staff writer

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    Maine Dept. of Transportation worker Alan Ladd creates a dust cloud while cutting concrete on the Langdon Road bridge crossing Interstate 295, July 8, in Richmond, Maine. Amid long-term highway funding worries, Maine is getting $130 million in federal stimulus funds.
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When Congress passed the $787 billion economic stimulus package, it included $26.8 billion for the states to spend on their highways and bridges.

One of the congressional mandates was to spend the money quickly.

Now Rep. James Oberstar (D) of Minnesota, wants the taxpayers to know who is spending the money and who is not.

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On Thursday, Mr. Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure patted three states on the back and told three others to get with the program.

The top three (as of the end of June):

1. Wyoming which has used 76 percent of its $157.6 million

2. New Hampshire at 64 percent of its $129.4 million

3. Oklahoma at 53 percent of its $464.6 million

The worst three:

1. Florida which has used 2 percent of its $1.346 billion

2. Hawaii at zero percent of $125.7 million

3. South Carolina at 3 percent of $463 million.

Why is Florida worse than Hawaii?

In calculating the top and bottom states, Oberstar’s committee weighted the numbers on the basis of allocated funds associated with projects out to bid, the percentage associated with projects under contract, and the largest percentage to projects already underway.

The weighting explains why Florida, which has only 13 percent of its funds out to bid but 2 percent underway is worse than Hawaii which has 36 percent out to bid but no projects underway.

Oberstar cracks the whip

In his letters to the governors of the states that are committing the money for road and bridge work, Oberstar called them models for other states. In his letters to the laggards, he asked them to “refocus your efforts” to use the available funds “to create and sustain family-wage jobs.”

“Oberstar is keeping the pressure on the states to get the money out,” says Brian Deery, senior director of the Highway and Transportation Division at the Associated General Contractors of America in Arlington, Va. “Quite frankly, we welcome that, our contractors are hungry for work.”

The press secretary for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and also the press secretary for Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle did not return phone calls. The South Carolina’s Transportation Commission said it was investigating the information.

What's going on in Florida?

Mr. Deery says some of the delays may be because Congress specifically earmarked some of the money for local areas. For example, in Florida's case, some $292.6 million is going to large urban areas such as Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville.

“Many of those local governments are not experienced letting those kind of contracts,” says Deery. “When you get involved in federal money, you have Davis-Bacon [federal wage determinations] requirements and reporting requirements they are not used to handling.”

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