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Stimulus boosts city’s plans for road repairs

Stimulus boosts city’s plans for road repairs

This article first appeared in the Journal Record.

April 22, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – The city’s public works department had already planned to widen some streets and resurface others, but an influx of federal stimulus package money will allow about 40 more miles of repairs, department Director Dennis Clowers said.

“This will allow us to do work that we would otherwise not have gotten to for a long time,” Clowers said Tuesday. Some of those contracts could be awarded as soon as August.

 “Our bond program has funding to resurface residential streets and widen arterial streets, and then to do some streetscape projects. But it doesn’t have money to resurface arterial streets. So when we found out we had the funds, we thought that would be the best use,” he said.

Clowers’ department will receive about $15 million for infrastructure projects, the largest portion of Oklahoma City’s expected $44.7 million allocation from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act package now being disbursed throughout the country. The remainder of Oklahoma City’s funds will go to departments ranging from airports to utilities, and through several filters including formula-derived grants, competitive bid grants and regional allocations.

The city’s public transportation system will receive the second-largest slice, at about $10 million, City Community and Government Affairs Manager Jane Abraham told council members. The money will go toward the purchase of buses, facility improvements and related capital expenditures. Ward 2 Councilman Sam Bowman said the combination of those funds and the city’s previously budgeted plans will ensure a totally new fleet of buses and save routes.

And as for grants worth $2.16 million to alleviate homelessness, Bowman said, “We would never have this opportunity and never have even thought about this kind of money in addressing the matter of homelessness in Oklahoma City.”

Abraham also stressed that city officials are required to carefully track and justify expenditures. She was uncertain about the number of jobs the stimulus package projects will create.

City Manager Jim Couch said his staff will continue to analyze the federal bill for additional grant opportunities.

But after the overview, Ward 5 Councilman Brian Walters warned the stimulus money is neither “manna from heaven” nor a gift from Santa Claus.

“The sad thing about it is that when these buses are recycled into soda cans, my grandchildren will still be paying for this,” Walters told his fellow council members.

“I know that we don’t have any control over what the federal government does, and I know all the arguments for, ‘Well, they’re going to give it out anyway – we might as well take it.’” he said. “I’m not arguing the philosophical nature of that. I just want people to understand that this is not magic money. The streets that are paved will be resurfaced long before the bonds are paid back that this money was borrowed from.”

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