Uncle Sam, Over Here! City, State Vie for Stimulus Money

brownnadler Uncle Sam, Over Here! City, State Vie for Stimulus MoneyCity and state officials are positioning themselves to garner funding from any new federal stimulus package for various transportation and infrastructure projects. Most of the projects are smaller-scale and nearly ready to start development.

It’s hoped, officials say, that new federal funds from the stimulus will push the projects forward.

“Infrastructure is huge for us,” said a state official, who said that in addition to infrastructure funding, the state is seeking help from Washington on unemployment insurance and food stamps, among other issues. “Anything that will put people back to work and get the economy flowing again in short order.”

It is unclear exactly what form a stimulus bill would take, or when it would pass. Congress expects to reconvene next week with hopes of passing a stimulus, though the Bush administration is resistant. Regardless of the rest of 2008, many legislators expect a package will be passed in the early months of the Obama administration.

Any stimulus is likely to contain significant money for public works, an approach favored by President-elect Obama and Congressional leaders, as they believe the money that goes toward infrastructure helps create jobs quickly.

Preparing for a stimulus, officials in the Paterson and Bloomberg administrations and at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority have created lists of projects that could get started within 90 days if given a federal funding boost. The 90-day turnaround was a prerequisite of stimulus legislation from September that included billions for infrastructure, though it failed in the Senate and thus was not enacted. In that bill, infrastructure funds were to be distributed by the Federal Department of Transportation, among other agencies.

Given the desire to fund projects that are nearly ready to go, the ones listed as candidates are not the large, unfunded mega-projects that are years off (such as the second phase of a Second Avenue Subway), but rather an array of smaller projects that could benefit from extra federal funds.

The M.T.A., for instance, said it could get between $800 million and $1 billion worth of projects under way within 60 to 90 days with federal funding, a list that includes station rehabilitations, bridge painting, track replacement and station cleaning. The M.T.A. on Nov. 10 announced its operating deficit for the year had risen to $1.2 billion, with fare hikes and cuts looming. The agency has already delayed projects in its capital plan, as has the Bloomberg administration.

The city had a list of over $1 billion in projects, many already mostly funded with federal money. For instance, the city listed an East River waterfront access project that has a total price of $164 million, and already has $150 million in federal funding, according to a person familiar with the city’s list. Maintenance for the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges and upgrades for the Staten Island Ferry Terminal are also listed.

The state has a list of 40 projects through its Department of Transportation, totaling $300 million, that it considers ready to get off the ground, projects Governor Paterson referred to when he testified before Congress in late October on states’ need for federal assistance.

The efforts seem to have the support of members of the New York Congressional delegation—Senator Schumer said Sunday that infrastructure funding should be a major part of a stimulus package—although most every state is sure to vie for funding.

“You want to get money circulating as fast as possible, and the way to do it is projects that are ready to go and are lacking funding,” said Robert Gottheim, a spokesman for Representative Jerrold Nadler, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

On a larger scale, New Jersey officials and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are looking to use any federal stimulus package to fill a multibillion-dollar budget hole for a planned new set of New Jersey Transit tunnels under the Hudson River.

The project, Access to the Region’s Core, has $5.7 billion in funding from New Jersey Transit, the Port Authority and New Jersey State, and had been awaiting about $3 billion from the Federal Transit Administration. However, the F.T.A.’s pot of money for such programs had run all but empty just at the time that ARC has nearly completed the regulatory approval process, so now Governor Jon Corzine and others view a stimulus as a possibility for closing the gap, and for getting the project started.

“It’s hard to envision a project that is ready to go as quickly as the ARC project is,” Anthony Coscia, chairman of the Port Authority, said. “Having the federal government step up would take this thing to a point where it gets over the goal line.”

ebrown@observer.com