Although Barack Obama won’t take office for another month, his pledge to drop fistfuls of money to improve the nation’s infrastructure has led local officials to begin jockeying for position. During his weekly radio address Dec. 6, Obama described a massive funding bill that would be the single largest public works investment since Dwight D. Eisenhower established the Interstate Highway System in the ’50s. To that end, Missoula sent a list of 31 infrastructure projects for inclusion in a report being drafted by the United States Conference of Mayors.
The report, entitled “Ready to Go,” lists projects across the nation that, according to an executive summary, “meet local infrastructure needs, can be funded through existing federal channels, start quickly when funding is received, generate significant numbers of jobs,” and are, well, ready to go if Obama’s plan becomes reality.
The wild card is the method by which the funding is distributed. Bruce Bender, the city’s chief administrative officer, thinks Missoula’s ability to shoulder in on some of the package improves significantly if the federal government distributes the money directly to cities. Otherwise, Bender guesses, the money will go toward state highway projects.
“We don’t know the process,” Bender says.
He notes that the national mayors’ organization advocates that the federal government release the funds in the same manner as the Community Development Block Grant—directly to municipalities—but he doesn’t think that will happen.
“A lot of [the information circulating] seems to be centered on giving it to the state and disseminating it down,” Bender says. Such methods, he adds, tend to favor rural locales because money is allocated by highway mile, not usage.
“We’re trying to bypass that because we feel the cities don’t get their fair share,” Bender says.
Most of the projects on Missoula’s list are in the range of a few million dollars. The largest include $36 million for a new police headquarters, $50 million for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy campaign and $20.5 million for the Fort Missoula Regional Park project.