Posts tagged with "Stimulus":

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New Routes for High Speed Rail Funds

It’s hard to imagine turning down $1.2 billion. That is, unless you’re the governors-elect of Wisconsin and Ohio. The New York Times reported today that those two states officially withdrew claim to their shares of federal stimulus money awarded for construction of new rail corridors, citing concerns over subsidies needed to run the trains. Instead the money will be redirected to 13 other states. Ironically, both Wisconsin and Ohio had lobbied aggressively for big hunks of the $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail development in Obama’s stimulus package. Things changed when Republicans won both governorships, partly on the platform of denying the stimulus awards. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Wisconsin would have received $810 million for a brand new rail corridor between Milwaukee and Madison and Ohio $385 for the new “3C” corridor between Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland. While neither project was intended to be high-speed, they were viewed as significant steps towards creating an efficient rail-network across the country, with the eventual goal of upgrading to high-speed. As an added bonus the projects would have generated thousands of jobs in an economic downturn. Initially, the new Republican Governors tried to redirect the money toward road projects, a move DOT rejected. Luckily for the rest of the country, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the money would be redistributed for rail projects 13 other states. California and Florida will be the biggest winners with $624 million and $342 million respectively. Illionis will get $42.3 million. You can see the official breakdown at the DOT website.
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Lean and Green

Vice President Joe Biden announced nearly half-a-billion dollars in stimulus funding today to promote green retrofits nationwide, and the biggest winner, according to a Bloomberg administration release, is New York State, which took home $40 million of the $452 million pot. The money will go to two programs, the PACE loan program and Green Jobs-Green New York. The former provides low- or no-interest loans to property owners who buy energy efficient building materials, including insulation, solar panels, and geo-thermal systems, which are then paid back through taxes and utility payments, though the retrofits average out to 20 to 30 percent on energy usage over the life of the product. And Green Jobs-Green New York provides funding to launch training programs so there are capable workers who can build, install, and maintain this new wave of high-tech devices.
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Stimulus Potholes

In a blistering report published today, the AP contends that the roughly $20 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, né the Stimulus, dedicated to road and infrastructure spending did nothing to help create jobs over the past 10 months. The news is particularly damning because the House has proposed another $28 billion in road work in its latest jobs package, and in light of this news, those critical infrastructure projects—which are easily pegged as pork to begin will—could become the next health care debate. To wit:
An Associated Press analysis of stimulus spending found that it didn't matter if a lot of money was spent on highways or none at all: Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless. And the stimulus spending only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry, the analysis showed. [...] Even within the construction industry, which stood to benefit most from transportation money, the AP's analysis found there was nearly no connection between stimulus money and the number of construction workers hired or fired since Congress passed the recovery program. The effect was so small, one economist compared it to trying to move the Empire State Building by pushing against it.
And yet the White House and even a few economists in the article have begun to push back. Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Association of General Contractors, points out that road work only accounts for 5 percent of the construction economy, a sector in desperate need as it is, and calls the AP's assumptions "flawed." "It is virtually impossible to measure the impact of $4 billion by looking at overall employment figures for an industry experiencing a $137 billion drop in activity—especially when only one in twenty construction workers stand to benefit from those stimulus funds," Simonson says. Meanwhile, conservatives declared "Toldya so!" Locally, things may be a little better, where the Bloomberg administration has fought for New York's (more than?) fair share of the stimulus pie. Marc LaVorgna, a spokesman, told us in an email today that the city will receive roughly $1 billion over the next two years, which will account for roughly 1/20th of the annual $10 billion spent on infrastructure, no small amount. And, according to the city's numbers, it's doing a good deal to keep people employed as well. "We submitted reports to the federal government based on their requirements and its done quarterly," LaVorgna wrote. "The last report showed 28,526 jobs were created or retained through stimulus funding." Lucky us.
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Harlem In Bloom

A crumbling row of ten Renaissance Revival apartment buildings, which were once the first black-owned property in North Harlem, are about to be remade again as one of a growing number of affordable, sustainable housing complexes sprouting up across the city. The project, which according to the Daily News, is set to begin by year's end, is being tackled by affordable housing guru Jonathan Rose and his Smart Growth Investment fund, who bought the buildings in January as the fund's first acquisition in its cheap-and-green portfolio. Dattner Architects, experts on both affordable and sustainable housing, is responsible for the retrofits [PDF], which include a photovoltaic array on the roof, efficient energy systems, lighting controls, new windows and insulation, and sustainably sourced materials. In addition to making it a more conscientious project, it also makes it a more feasible one, as these features open it up to stimulus and HUD moneys targeted at sustainable buildings—to the tune of $3 million.
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Shovels in the Ground

Yesterday, President Obama made a visit to the Department of Transportation to applaud them and the rest of the nation for their work spending those stimulus dollars, marking the occasion of the 2,000th infrastructure project to be approved for Federal stimulus money. In his speech, the president joked that something unusual had happened at DOT and throughout the land: "We can utter a sentence rarely heard in recent years: This government effort is coming in ahead of schedule and under budget."
Now, some may have thought it would take months to get to this point. But in part because of the hard work and commitment of the people in this department, we approved these 2,000 projects in just 41 days.
However, what is most impressive--or depressing, depending on your perspective--is just how little contractors are willing to charge for such work:
And that's why I'm pleased to hear that in state after state across America, competition for these projects is so fierce, and contractors are doing such a good job cutting costs, that projects are consistently coming in under budget. The final bid for one road project in Connecticut was $8.4 million less than the state budgeted for. Another one in Louisiana was $4.7 million less. A project at BWI Airport will be completed for $8 million less than expected. Bids for projects in North Carolina have been 19 percent under budget. Colorado is reporting bids up to 30 percent less than they expected. And the officials in California have seen bids that are close to half as much as they had projected. And because these projects are proceeding so efficiently, we now have more recovery dollars to go around. And that means we can fund more projects, revitalize more of our infrastructure, put more people back to work, and ensure that taxpayers get more value for their dollars. [Emphasis added]
The big question to our minds, though, was where, how, and, most importantly, for what will that surplus stimulus be allocated? For example, does California, through its thrifty bidding processes, get to build twice as much as expected? Or does that money go back to the Feds to be reallocated? Neither Governor Schwarzenegger's office nor the Times knew the answer to this question, and the Obama press office did not return calls seeking comment. Still, more money and more work is always a good thing. Now we can only hope its the kind of aspirational work planners and architects have been clamoring for and not just more repairs and repaving. Not that that's a bad thing. The renderings just aren't as sexy.
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Stimulus, Coming to a Street Near You

First Recovery.gov, now the NYC Stimulus Tracker. Yesterday, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the $1.1 billion in new infrastructure spending resulting from the city's cut of the federal stimulus bill, he also announced the creation of a special website to lend transparency to the process, not unlike the model set out by our dear mayor. (Judging by WNYC and ProPublica's Shovelwatch map, though, everyone's getting in on the act, with all but five states and numerous municipalities launching such sites.) There are six projects receiving direct stimulus funding, including $47 million for the repair of the Brooklyn Bridge, $175 million for rehabilition of the St. George Ferry ramps in Staten Island, and the $9.7 million repairs of a dozen roads throughout the five boroughs. The mayor also announced 25 projects that will receive funds allocated at the state level, also known as displaced funds. Below is a list, but for more on both, see the mayor's release. As a whole, he said the projects will create or preserve 32,000 jobs. But to be sure, check the Stimulus Tracker. Individual projects by borough, with amount of stimulus money recieved and expected completion:
    BRONX
  • Improvements to Hunts Point, $22 million, Fall 2012
  • Reconstruction of Paulding Avenue (Bronxwood), $21 million, Fall 2014
  • Reconstruction of the Claremont Parkway Bridge (Bathgate), $7.0 million, Summer 2012
  • Reconstruction of the Decatur Ave Retaining Wall (Bedford Park), $7 million, Fall 2011
  • Improvements to Hugh Grant Circle (Parkchester), $3.5 million, Summer 2011
    BROOKLYN
  • Improvements to Brooklyn Navy Yard, $4.7 million, Summer 2011
  • Streetscape Improvements to Flatbush Avenue (Flatbush), $3.5 million, June 2011
  • Reconstruction of Nassau Avenue and Monitor Street (Greenpoint), $12.9 million, Fall 2011
  • Reconstruction of Coney Island Boardwalk, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Shore (Belt) Parkway East 8th Street Access Ramp (Bath Beach), $14 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Eastern Parkway (Prospect Heights), $6 million, Spring 2012
  • Improvements to Bedford Stuyvesant Gateway Business District, $7.1 million, Winter 2011
  • Replacement of Protective Coating on Steel Structure of Six Belt/Shore Parkway Bridges, $6.8 million, Fall 2011
    MANHATTAN
  • Reconstruction of West 125th Street, $1.9 million, Fall 2014
  • Reconstruction of East Houston Street, $23.5 million, Fall 2011
    QUEENS
  • Improvements to Long Island City Queens Plaza – Phase I, $22 million, Spring 2011
  • Improvements to Long Island City Queens Plaza – Phase II, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Rockaway Boardwalk, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of College Point / 32nd Avenue, $12 million, Fall 2011
  • Replacement of Hillside Avenue Sidewalk (Jamaica), $10 million, Fall 2010
  • Extension of 132nd Street / Linden Place Extension, $7 million, Winter 2014
    STATEN ISLAND
  • Rehabilitation of 11 Staten Island Railway Bridges, $8.2 million, Summer 2010
  • Completion of the St. George Ferry Terminal Retail Area, $6 million, Fall 2009

The Stimulus, Uploaded for Your Pleasure

There has been a great deal of criticism that the Obama administration has failed to uphold a number of its campaign promises, such as shirking lobbyists and business-as-usual, and reaching across the aisle to craft bipartisan public policy. One thing that has not changed, however, is the commitment to open and transparent governance, particularly through the use of the World Wide Web. And so, today, Recovery.gov was launched, the better to help America keep tabs on the stimulus bill. The site is chock-full of useful information, like where the money is meant to go and when, as well as ways for users to track its use and help play watchdog in the process. As the president puts it in the above video, "When money is spent to build new schools and create new jobs, you'll be able to see how, when, and where it was spent." And for the real wonks among you, there's links to source documents, like the bill itself. There's even a nifty map with state-by-state breakdowns of estimated job creation. So how does it all work? As far as we can tell, the venture--granted like most of Obama's--looks promising. The experts over at Pro Publica, a non-profit investigative journalism site, give Recovery.gov a generally favorable review, though they also note that a handful of news outlets--theirs included--have provided more thorough breakdowns of the numbers. They also point out that this is familiar territory for the president:
So what will Recovery 2.0 look like? One guide is USASpending.gov, a 2-year-old government Web site that compiles data on all federal contracts. The site was created by a bill President Obama sponsored (with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.) when he was in the Senate.
We'll let you know what we find. And vice versa.
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On the Right Track?

Yesterday afternoon in Denver, Colorado, President Obama signed the stimulus bill into law. The process of doling out the spoils begins, as we wait, and hope, for the desired economic recovery. One piece of good news for urbanites and green transportation advocates, the bill includes $8 billion for high-speed rail, according to Politico. Additional funding is expected at $1 billion annually for the next five years, through the normal budgetary stream. This represents a major increase in high speed rail funding. Last year, President Bush authorized $1.5 billion in high speed rail funding through 2013. Reportedly, Transportation Secretary Lahood has 60 days to plan how and where the funds will be spent. The rail funding is a special priority for President Obama, according to Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. “I put it in there for the president,” Emanuel told Politico. “The president wanted to have a signature issue in the bill, his commitment for the future.” The rail-heavy Northeast and the planned California high-speed corridor seem like obvious recipients. Doubtless some in Chicago, and the down state Illinois district Lahood previously represented, will push for a Midwest hub and spoke-shaped system centered in Chicago. While architects do not typically design rail corridors, they do design stations, like this Calatrava-designed TGV station in Lyon, and transit oriented developments. Wouldn't it be nice to buy your Acela tickets in surroundings like this? UPDATE: The Huffington Post has a link to a 2002 Federal Railroad Administration map showing possible high-speed corridors. Which lines will make the cut?

Stimulus and Sandwiches

The second of the “Not Business as Usual” lunchtime conversation series last Wednesday at the Center for Architecture in New York had quite a turnout, including laid off designers, freelancers, and managers of struggling firms. Everyone was looking for ideas in these turbulent economic times. “We are trying to give information to people, to help them keep in contact with the industry so that they feel like they haven’t lost all their friends,” Steve Glenn from Lutron, one of the sponsors of the series, told AN. In the light of the current economic situation and the much debated stimulus package, this luncheon focused on federal and local government efforts to spark economy, and how these efforts could affect the design professions. The idea was to get architects and designers to participate and have their say on how the AIA, elected officials, and city agencies advocated for high quality public design as a part of the economic recovery plan. Last week, members of the AIA went to Washington to express their position on Federal Transportation Policy and to advocate for healthy and safe communities. “The AIA urges members of Congress to support community-based planning and design programs in the upcoming reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU that helps enhance the quality of life, reduce congestion, and provide long term economic and environmental benefits,” according to a statement by the AIA. Sherida Paulsen, president of the AIA New York Chapter, urged those present to address these concerns in coherent written form to congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. The session broke down into different groups addressing different advocacy areas, including transportation, infrastructure, healthcare, and small business issues, Design Corps, energy policy and sustainability, and other issues. In a session that could very well have been a support group for struggling architects, many of the attendees were eager to participate and jot down their proposals, but many others were disappointed for not getting the answers they had come for: How to start their own businesses? What about start-up benefits and unemployment compensation? Will there be tax exemptions? How much of the stimulus package will be directed to architecture firms as opposed to engineering firms? The truth is, the stimulus package is evolving by the hour. We will likely be unpacking it for months to come.
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Keep Your Eye on the Oculus (UPDATE)

Even before the recession hobbled the MTA, the fate of the Fulton Street Transit Center was much in doubt. There had been talk of simply capping the site with a park, or building Grimshaw's pavillion but without Jamie Carpenter's signature oculus. But according to a report this morning on WNYC, the MTA has decided to go forward with an above-ground building, though it could be sans oculus. And, for better or worse, there will be more retail opportunities (read: a mall), which, given Richard Ravitch's contention that the MTA lacks a consistent, reliable funding stream, might not be such a bad idea. The WNYC report is not online, though confirmation from MTA prez Lee Sander, as well as the news that it will cost between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion, is. Furthermore, per WNYC, "Sander would not say what revisions have been made to the hub's design." But a source at Grimshaw wrote in an email that not much has changed--yet. "We are still the architect and the oculus still exists." In an interesting twist, the Post is now reporting that the remaining $497 required to complete the project will come from the Obama stimulus package, as well as more vague design pronouncements:
"People have been worried that we were going to leave a hole in the ground or construct a simple subway entrance instead of the iconic structure that the community was expecting," Sander said. "I am here to tell you that this is not the case." The original designs of the above-ground glass structure called for an oculus that would reflect light into the station. The plans were later simplified to only include skylights.
No word yet from Jamie Carpenter, though the MTA press office is hard at work on filling us in. For a reminder of what the project may or may not look like, check NY1's story from Monday. Update: In an email, Carpenter writes, "We are of course hopeful but I have no current information." Meanwhile, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan shed slightly more light on the project. "At this stage, we've reached a concept but no new designs yet," he said, adding "A three-story glass structure is about as specific as I could get." In the Times, Sander said pretty much the same thing, as well as making a strong case for its inclusion in the stimulus plan:
“The pavilion has to be many things to many people,” Mr. Sander said, referring to the glass structure. “It has to be a building of vibrant design with as much new retail activity as possible.” He called it “a highly visible portal to a modern transportation complex.” [...] “The project needs to be finished,” he said. “It does at this point appear to meet the criteria that Congress has put out, and from an economic stimulus standpoint, in terms of job creation, it certainly seems appropriate.”
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Big Turbine Keep On Turnin’

Touchstone Architecture/Columbia River Crossing
Everyone seems to be talking about infrastructure and green jobs, which are expected to be a big part of any Federal stimulus package. One tension, however, is that a lot of infrastructure projects, especially highways, are anything but green. Here's one plan that attempts to reconcile this discrepancy, a wind turbine-equipped bridge planned for Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. The schemes, designed by Florida-based Touchstone Architecture, would integrate vertical turbines into the structure, powering lighting and toll stations. It's difficult to evaluate the project as energy generation capacity has yet been estimated. It's important to note, however, that this project is not pie-in-the-sky. The proposed Columbia River Crossing would integrate car, train, pedestrian, bicycle traffic, including Interstate-5 and a light rail line to Clark College in Vancouver, Washington.
Touchstone Architecture/Columbia River Crossing
The Crossing is be one of hundreds of projects vying for federal funds, but advocates hope the green bells and whistles will help it stand out from the crowd. (The Oregonian via Planetizen).
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Obama Goes Home

President-elect Barack Obama gave a half-hour interview to CNBC tonight (full interview here, transcript here) that was impressively policy heavy--a real treat for the wonks out there, though who isn't these days--in advance of the unveiling of his nearly $800 billion stimulus package tomorrow. One of the issues he necessarily touched upon was the housing crisis (video), given its place at the center of the current meltdown.
I think the most important thing when it comes to declining home values is, number one, preventing further foreclosures. That just erodes home values across the board. And that's why I think for those of us who are still paying a mortage--you know, you hear sometimes folks up in the country say, 'Well, I've been responsible. Why should I provide any help to somebody who maybe took out a mortgage that they couldn't afford.' Well, this goes back to the adage that if your neighbor's house is burning, you got to first worry about putting out the house, even if they'd acted irresponsibly. I think that's true when it comes to foreclosures as well. We've got to prevent the continuing deterioration of the housing market.
Sadly, he didn't say much more on the subject, except that we need to make long-term investments as well, like "weatheriz[ing] homes all across the country, which can "drastically cut the country's energy bills, increase energy independence, [and] reduce global greenhouse gases." As for his stimulus plan, he didn't say much about that, either--presumably he's saving all the fireworks for tomorrow--but without mentioning infrastructure once, or saying much about new housing or other construction, we're a little worried. After all, we need him now more than ever.