By Alexi Mostrous
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 5:33 PM
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today launched a vigorous defense of President Obama's economic recovery plan, in the latest attempt by the administration to counter increasing Republican attacks over the effectiveness of the package.
LaHood described the $787 billion stimulus package as "the most sweeping, complex and ambitious domestic aid package we have enacted in generations" and said it already had helped states avoid major service cuts, tax hikes and widespread layoffs.
His speech at the Center for National Policy in Washington came just days after Arizona's junior senator, Republican Jon Kyl, suggested the government should "cancel the rest of the stimulus spending." Other Republican lawmakers have ramped up their criticism of the package, questioning how effective it has been in creating jobs or saving existing ones.
LaHood insisted that programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had already created "thousands" of jobs, less than six months into its 18-month program.
"I have personally met with workers who would not be getting paid this week without stimulus-funded transportation jobs," he said. "And because they are working, they can support their families, pay their bills and pump some dollars back into their local economy."
Pennsylvania, LaHood said, gave a green light to more than 200 transportation infrastructure projects because of an additional billion dollars provided for highway and bridge construction projects. "In state after state, we're seeing a meaningful impact on jobs," he said. "The Maryland Department of Transportation has recalled all of its laid-off employees back to work. A private contractor in Massachusetts has brought back nearly its entire workforce -- more than 300 people."
Congress gave LaHood's department $48 billion to modernize and rebuild roads, bridges, transit systems, airports and seaports, he said. Of that, $21.1 billion has already been earmarked to fund more than 6,300 approved projects around the United States.
In the longer term, the department has $8 billion available for inter-city and high-speed passenger rail links. Allocation will begin in September, LaHood said.
In a letter sent to all 50 governors Thursday, LaHood asked them "wherever possible" to set aside the savings from low bids on highway and transit projects financed by the economic-stimulus package and spend the money in areas hit hardest by the recession. He said today that his department continues to push states to allocate transportation stimulus funds to poor areas.
"I'm having a conference call this afternoon with the state DOT directors around the country to emphasis again what our priorities are," he said in response to a question. "We're doing all we can to get the money out the door to make sure it goes to areas where they have more serious needs. It's going to happen."