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Week of 2.13.09

Stimulus Roadblock?

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President Obama's stimulus money is nearly out the door and on its way to the states, but will it be spent in the way it is intended?

One alarming example: Mass transit. Cities and states, strapped for money, are cutting back on mass transit even as it becomes more popular with Americans. Meanwhile, President Obama is calling for increased mass transit as a necessary step toward energy independence. Will the government's investment dramatically revitalize our national travel infrastructure, or will states spend the money according to 'business as usual'?

This week NOW travels to North Carolina to see what the future holds for mass transit in these troubling financial times. Our investigation is part of a PBS-wide series on the country's infrastructure called "Blueprint America."

Related Links

Blueprint America: The infrastructure of Congress’ stimulus plan

The Associated Press: Fact Check: Examining Obama's job, pork claims

CNN: Will infrastructure stimulus create jobs?

The New York Times: U.S. Infrastructure Is in Dire Straits, Report Says

U.S. PIRG: Economic Stimulus or Simply More Misguided Spending? (pdf), includes data on planned spending on infrastructure in a number of states.

Viewer Comments

Commenter: calvin
What the president should be doing.

We have fallen on hard times.One can only hope and pray that our country will recover quickly, but we know that is not going to happen.
We are faced with a huge deficit as we continue to pump money into banking to try to get our economy moving again.But that will not happen.
As more and more people lose their jobs, foreclosure will continue to rise and sale will fall.At risk of losing everything they have, people will
pulling their 401k's causing the stockmarket to fall even more.We put alot of money into the economy but the effects will minimum
on the average american.Your elected officials are trying everything we can to stabilize this country but it might be to late.
So here is what I purpose.

1. Starting next month any state that has sales tax on food.Those taxes will be dropped.In hard time when people cant afford to buy food, we should not tax them.
This will be plan that would benefit all Americans in these hard times that will not cost the Government any money.It will just be money we are not
going to be getting..How can we tax you for trying to put food on your table when you can even afford the rising prices anyway.

2.We set out a plan that would help millions of homeowners get their payments lower.But not everyone will qualify.So my new plan is that all
loans from housing to personal money loans to even credit cards will carry a percentage rate of no higher than 5%.Even if you have an existing
contract then your contract will be revised to for the 5% to take effect.Now keep in mind that is not a short term plan, This is for LIFE.
We have passed a time in life where we can pay for most things we need.Home, Auto and money loans are done on credit and the interest rates are getting out of controll.Your high interest rates only serves on purpose and that is to pay big bonuses to ceo's.Well that has stopped
as of now.

3.Intrest rates on credit cards has spiraled out of control, in some case as much as 23%.Not anymore.We set in stone a 10% interest rate on all credit cards.
I would urge you to stop buying things on credit cards unless you can pay it off when your bill is due.The longer you make minimum payments the more
you are going to pay.Make your coffee at home.Use cash to pay for gas.set aside a budget for food.You can use debit cards from your banks if you
do not like carrying cash.Remember you never save money with using a credit card.

4.Some states use your credit score on your insurance rates.That to will stop.If you are not Getting a loan for money wether it be for housing, auto, personal
loan then your credit is not required and cannot be looked up.

5.(Junk contracts)In my definition a junk contract is agreements for services.Cell phones, Gym membership, Apartment rental, ect..Lets look at it this way.
You sign a two year deal on a cell phone.3 months into it you are tired of dropped calls. hidden fees and poor customer service.So you want to switch companies
but if you do then you most providers will charge you an early termination fee.usualy $200 or more.And for what.If you simply do not pay then it goes on your
credit report.This is a service that can be dealt with like a home phone.You pay you have service if not you do with out.Apartments make you sign a Lease
and if you leave before the lease has expired the you must pay up to the remaining months on the lease.No more.When your are ready to move Then just go.That Lease is only good
for one thing as far as money goes and that is how much you pay per month that you live there.If something happens and you need to move out you are not entitled to nothing
but for the months you lived there.Same with gym membership.You sign an agreement saying you will pay this much per month and nothing else.
(Services like these are like jobs, If i do not want your services anymore you will be fired or replaced with a better person or company.)

6.Taxes on property.You pay taxes on what your property is worth.If your property value declines so should you taxes.But they are not.But now they will.
In this new plan, when you get your next tax bill it will reflect what you home value are set at.

7.We are putting a temporary hold on green cards and work visa's till America gets moving again.Their is not enough jobs for those needing one now so why let foreigners
come and take what we have left.

8.Our goal is to get rid of all the little things in your daily life that puts us where we are at today.Those little things that are not necessary for us to live our lives.Those unnecessary things that empty our wallets only to fill someone else's.Its apparent to everyone that the stimulus package will work but not before it's to late.So now we will do a stimulus
package that will Effect you now and with little cost to the goverment.The only one that will hurt is the big business that hurt us.Now its payback.Now is the time for us to get our lives back and be
The best America we can be.

Commenter: mc
From what happened in the past and what is happening
now in US Economy, it is obvious that Americans have a tendency of spending money lavishly beyond their means without adequate income. From all the commercials we see on TV and Newspaper media, it appears that most Americans lived their entire life on credit even though they were not gainfully employed.

Commercial Ads such as 'Buy Now and no payment until the following year' made them think that even if they don't earn anything, they could still buy on credit or borrow from the bank.

That is what exactly happened and the Real Estate Mortgage collapsed. Banks and Mortgage Companies were busy providing loans to borrowers even if they (borrowers) did not need them.

Hard Facts:
Americans should spend LESS and save MORE

They should not waste time indulging in hot dog eating contest. They should avoid overeating-that means they must eat LESS and work or study MORE.

There is no limit on how much we can earn and how much we can learn. The Whole World is BIG with opportunities

But there is certainly a limit on how much we can consume. There are many in Asian and European countries who do not eat and consume like Americans do.

They should learn to make a decent living within their means.

Commenter: ;HARRY T. WALLER, JR

Commenter: Scott Kruse
We need robust, focused, sustained investment in walking

Commenter: Jamie Terrell
I've read where ridership on the Charlotte Lynx has dropped recently due to the economy.

Commenter: Charles VandenBergh
Mass transit and High Speed Rail must become a priority in all transportation plans. This is the only way to get people out of their automobiles. This will accomplish two things: first, there will be much less dependence on gasoline vehicles and second it will clean our air in the cities.

Commenter: Robert Hinshaw
Interesting and informative! Thanks for your information regarding Charlotte and NC transportation procedures.

Commenter: Bill Barlow
Transit stimulus (Economic Recovery Act) requests came in from all over North Carolina. They had to be something you could implement in 180 days. That meant they were either projects in the pipeline or purchases that were scheduled. What we ended up was a shopping list of small projects and or excelerated larger projects. The Stimulus missed a huge opportunity to create something sugnificant - a memorial to the times, i.e. New Deal projects like TVA hydro dams. These were modern public-works programs based on productivity; creating jobs and flushing cash into the economy as a byproduct.

Wouldn't it have been nice to see a shiny new modern passenger transit system built in the Triangle as a memorial to the first 180 days of the "New Deal - the sequel". Check that on the "Obamameter" in two years.

Commenter: Jo
It is a shame that we aren't rewarding governments that are actually doing something right. Cambridge, MA and the green overhaul. Las Vegas and water conservation. Atlanta, GA and sales tax for water and sewer maintenance. Newark, NJ and crime prevention. Philadelphia, PA and urban gardens and farmers' markets. And Charlotte, NC and light rail.
Wouldn't it be great if these were models for the entire country??? Isn't this a possibility?

Commenter: Jimmy Habersham II
I believe that part of the stimulus package being spent on mass trainsit is a good idea to help improve how we move, conduct business or commerce in this nation. It could also stimulate employment by creating mass trainsit in areas where there is a need such as Nashville, Birmingham, and Orlando. Or to improve in areas such as Atlanta or Jacksonville, and now Charlottee.

Commenter: Dan From Chicago
As your report highlighted the politicans and leaders using the transportation funding do not always understand all the needs of the users or total region.

In big cities such as New York and Chicago a need for newer/updated buses, stations, and rail cars would benefit existing users, but expansion of the existing system is also needed. NIPC and the RTA have been talking for years about the need for a Mid-City transit line adding connections which would better serve the communities, not just the core city. Demographics and populations have changed, but the leaders in Chicagoland still think everyone travels in and out of the core city; more and more people are traveling North/South East/West from neighborhood to neighborhood, suburb to suburb.

I fear local politicans will do what's best for their friends and contributors rather than the voters transferring 3 to 4 times to get to a job.

Commenter: John Brown
I'm speaking about the video from 7:15-8:08 which suggests unfairness in Missouri because St. Louis was left out from the "shovel-ready" list. NOT TRUE. I am a born-and-raised citizen of Missouri. From 1970-1974, my family lived out of state. But upon our return in 1974 (when I was a teen), I remember there was a lot of complaining about problems with a widening project of U.S. Highway 60, making a two-lane (one lane west, one lane east) highway with a high population to a four lane highway from Monett-Aurora-Republic-Springfield. Nothing came of it as funds were diverted to Kansas City and St. Louis. Now consider that we have a lot of farming equipment moving along, encountering many natural obstacles -- such as curves and hills -- all over that section of Highway 60. Can you imagine 5-10 miles per hour behind a hay truck, or 40 miles per hour behind a slow driver, for stretches of highway with no place to pass for 30 miles between Monett and Republic? (I include the section of U.S. Highway 60 west of Republic because Republic is now a suburb of Springfield and has four-land roads all the way to the west side of the city.)

In the 1980's and 1990's, we heard further promises that went nowhere. Finally we were asked, state-wide, to pass increase funding for MODOT -- the Missouri Transportation Department -- and an "in concrete" plan was presented to the taxpayers. As soon as the citizens of Missouri passed the plan, politicians in St. Louis and Kansas City hired attorneys to sue and change the percentages 20% to their direction. So, once again, the U.S. Highway 60 widening project died as population grew. Well, population isn't growing any more. So please understand that there are multi-decades old "shovel-ready" road projects outside of St. Louis because we in the rest of our state have been neglected. If St. Louis is left out this time, perhaps it's because they've taken advantage of others for too long.

Commenter: Alan Weeks
Great program. It is amazing to find a politician who knows anything about the Transit Industry. But
to find a Republican Mayor who understands the complete picture is an Oxymoron. The Mayor should have been Obama's Secretary of Transportation. I retired from the Transit District in Los Angeles so
I am aware of what this country has failed to do during the last fifty years. Your program may wake up a few people in high places.

Commenter: Alan Kandel
Good for Charlotte, North Carolina! N.C. seems light years ahead of many states in its use of trains to serve the public. What's more, the prospect of adding commuter rail to the Charlotte area transportation mix, if implemented, will make mobility in this region even less restrictive and in my book, improved mobility is synonymous with increased opportunity.

One item in particular in the show that was impressed upon me was a statement by Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and that is that those reaping transit's benefits years from now will in retrospect be able to look back and thank their predecessors today for making the right moves and having the right stuff in getting this system implemented. Or, in no uncertain terms, making wise environmental, land use and transportation planning decisions today, will not only pay dividends for today's transit system users and the so-affected community, but for the community and its citizens well into the future as well.

I'm also glad it was pointed out that there is a connection between land use, environment and transportation. These are intertwined elements and all need to collectively be taken into consideration when thinking city and regional planning. These elements are not isolated and should not be viewed as such. Making such a connection is essential to creating systems that work.

Based on what I saw, my one hope is that planners, legislators, developers and interested others in my area (Fresno, California) and other areas as well were paying close enough attention to Friday evening's program - provided they watched it - and the message was taken to heart and positive and substantive change comes about in this regard as a result. Here's hoping.

Kudos to NOW for having the presence of mind to feature segments on important topics such as this and others. Keep up the great work!

I found many comments about mass transit (LRT and trains) misleading. Many jurisdiction have approximately a 50% subsidy on operating costs, and Peter robs Paul to pay for the infrastructure costs. (Eg. a gas tax on car fuel to pay for public transit infrastructure)

LRT enthusiasts speak about the walking city, etc. etc. Reality based thinking shows that no more than 20% of the mass transit population walks to mass transit stations, and mass transit requires transportation (either buses or cars) to feed it. Moreover, many jurisdictions simply do not have the density to support an economical mass transit system. Small cities in particular often have nearly empty trains moving across the city and as a consequence do nothing to conserve energy, emit less CO2, reduce congestion, or make transportation faster or less expensive than car travel.

No doubt sometimes in dense cities such as New York and Tokyo mass transit does wonders, but for cities with populations less than 1 or 2 million, trains do not reach 50% utilization as most trips involve taking workers to work, with empty trains on the return journey, and vice versa on the commute home after work.

Transportation methods that work require people living in close proximity to where they work. Short of that, the holy grail of mass transit simply wastes money for jurisdiction with muddled thinking.

Commenter: Helen Smith
Part of our City Council has been trying to convince us that we should be thinking and planning for the future with rapit/mass transit as we rebuild our city, West Sacramento, CA. I think it all fell on deaf ears, including myself.
They had visited Charlotte, NC and came back and told us of what was going on there. It just didn't 'come off' as they tried to explain. Now that I have seen last night's NOW, Stimulus Road Block, I can see why they were so enthusiastic about what has/is going on there in Charlotte.
NOW is one of the best shows on PBS and if I think I will not be able to watch it I am sure to tape it. Each week is another eye-opener as to what is happening around our country. THANK YOU.

Commenter: Tom Matecki
Good show but you couldn't complete it without the Bush bashing could you? Typical knee jerk liberal crap. If Charlotte or any other city wants mass transit where does it say the feds have to finance it? Where the hell do you think the feds get their money? Why should Californians, whose state is broke, be financing Charlotte transit? Why should a federal government which can't cover it's own cost of entitlements be funding this? Sell bonds, raise taxes, get the state to help. That's the way to do it. The liberal worship of Washington is what stymies progess at the state level. States need to show more initiative and take more responsibility for their own lives instead of always sucking at the federal teat. Too bad the bright spots in this story were polluted with the stench of old liberal thoughts.

Commenter: Bill Barker
Congratulations! I have been working in this field for nearly 40 years, and this is one of the best programs I have ever seen on urban transportation. Thank you for a job well-done!

Commenter: Tom Earnist
Excellent as usual. I live in LA

Commenter: Peter Theis
The show continues to be fantastic! Sending all of you big hugs of delighted thank you!



Commenter: Christophe Sautot
It is exciting to see projects like this finally start to pop up in America. I wish more Americans would travel to Europe and Asia to see the great benefits of using trains, and mass transit, as opposed to using cars. There are just so many wonderful chnages that result from using mass transit systems.

Commenter: Judith Logue
You mentioned a couple of side benefits to public transportation. Another big benefit is that getting people out of their cars (more walking) makes people healthier. We do have a nation-wide obesity problem which seems to be less of a problem in larger cities where public transportation forces people to get out in the air. Your program illustrates why planned public transportation is so good for the economy. Seems Minnesota, is not cutting back on transportation yet - but commuter trains were eliminated years ago, and nothing has replaced it yet. Very sad.
Someday perhaps we'll wake up and plan our cities so that many more people can walk to work and shopping. Thanks for a great report!

Blueprint America Rockefeller Foundation Thirteen/WNET
Stimulus Roadblock?

Housing Crisis: You Asked, She Answered

In Your State: Transit Cuts?

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