Signs along the streets in Missoula now tout “Recovery — Reinvestment,” a reminder that much of the current road work around town is being funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the stimulus bill.
Some projects, such as the $680,000 roundabout at the Higgins-Beckwith-Hill intersection that’s scheduled to open next week, seem like the kind of thing the stimulus bill was meant to support: transportation infrastructure that local governments don’t have the money to build themselves. Dave Zinke, VP of Knife River’s Missoula office, said the company hired no new workers to complete the Higgins project, but it did put to work many of its 150 employees, 95 percent of whom had been laid off last fall.
But other road projects seem to underscore the limitations inherent in the way the program was structured.
For example, Missoula is using stimulus money to resurface relatively well-maintained city streets and install accessible sidewalk ramps at several intersections around the city.
Why were projects like these chosen?
“They don’t take a lot of designing,” said Bruce Bender, Missoula’s chief administrative officer. “That’s one of the reasons we chose them, because they didn’t take a lot to get going.”
According to Bender, several of the stimulus funded projects going on in Missoula received funding because they were expedient rather than urgent.
“Transportation projects had to be ‘shovel-ready’ — close to going — in order to get funding,” he said. “The roundabout was already designed, we just didn’t have the money. There are a lot of other needs that we weren’t ready for.”
Stimulus-funded projects in Missoula include about $1 million worth of road resurfacing, which is taking place on N. Higgins Ave, N. Orange St., S. Russell near 39th, South Ave west of Reserve and over the Scott St Bridge.
In addition to transportation projects, the city is receiving money to complete a $1.5 million sewer project in the Rattlesnake Valley. And the city has been approved to receive about $700,000 to increase energy efficiency by upgrading city and public buildings. Some of the energy money will go into grant and loan funds; money from the funds will be available to businesses, non-profits and residents who wish to improve energy efficiency in their offices or homes.
The City of Missoula has also applied via the state for ARRA money to install four playgrounds in city parks ($380,000), install new curbs and gutters on Brooks St between Mount and Higgins ($240,000), install handicap ramps in various locations ($237,000) and replace a pedestrian bridge in Greenough Park ($20,000).
Stimulus money is also flowing into Missoula through various channels other than the city, including the county government, various economic development organizations, and federal agencies such as the USDA and the Department of Education.