Kansas didn't hesitate on stimulus projects

WASHINGTON — Unlike some states, Kansas has been spending its federal highway stimulus dollars at a pretty good clip.

Out of about 150 projects slated for stimulus funding, work is under way on more than 75 percent; 17 percent are already complete; and only a handful are still waiting for shovels, according to an analysis by McClatchy Newspapers.

The unemployment rate in Kansas is 6.6 percent, a third less than the national average. But the Obama administration's economic stimulus program has become a dart board for critics who argue that $800 billion was too much an investment for too little of a return.

Kansas highway officials were unable to say how many transportation jobs the stimulus has so far produced. Monthly reports show that 4,800 resulted from the program in July.

"I know overall the national story about the stimulus has been what it didn't accomplish," said Deb Miller, Kansas secretary of Transportation. "From where I sit, it's made a huge difference. It has clearly put people back to work."

Congress approved the program last year with only Democratic support. The hope was that an injection of federal spending for public works would create jobs and trigger economic growth.

Kansas received $348 million in stimulus funds to pay for road resurfacing, bridge reconstruction, highway interchanges and other transportation projects.

More than $13 million has gone to projects in the Wichita area. Among them is a $3.6 million effort to widen Maize Road between Pawnee and Kellogg.

Wichita Vice Mayor Jeff Longwell said the project was an example of using the money to improve road safety, but also trigger economic growth.

He said he hopes that redesigning the road to accommodate more traffic will draw more commercial development and create more jobs.

"I know there's a little bit of heartburn over federal government and how they're spending these types of dollars," Longwell said. "I think we'll see some long-term benefits and possibly bring in some future economic development."

Some states are still sitting on a sizable portion of their highway stimulus funds, the McClatchy study found. But Kansas transportation officials said the state jumped on the aid as soon as President Obama signed the bill.

"We were quick to announce our projects and get them under way so we could create jobs and start money flowing into local economies — just what the Recovery Act was designed to do," Miller said.