In Stanislaus County, the money for roadwork in President Barack Obama's first stimulus plan has yet to really hit the streets or put people to work.
That's consistent with an Associated Press analysis released Monday showing that, 10 months after the stimulus plan was passed, the surge in spending on roads and bridges has had no effect on local unemployment and only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry.
Spend a lot or spend nothing at all, it didn't matter, the AP analysis shows: Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless of how much money Washington poured out for transportation, raising questions about Obama's argument that more road money would address an "urgent need to accelerate job growth."
None of the Stanislaus County road projects paid for with the $21 million in federal funding has started construction, and crews aren't expected on the streets until spring or summer. Regional transportation officials and contractors said the lag is part of the normal process of planning, approving and bidding on construction projects.
Scott Philips, an associate planner for the regional transportation planning agency the Stanislaus Council of Governments, said people who expect to see immediate results don't understand the layers of bureaucracy.
No speed amid red tape
"They are talking to people in Washington and policy wonks, not the people in the trenches," Philips said. "Every jurisdiction is different. Everybody has their own rules. The general layperson thinks here comes the money and the jobs will be out there in 90 days. Let's get real."
He said some Stanislaus County communities can expect to see work begin by spring on stimulus-funded projects -- from simple maintenance to $1.2 million for a downtown plaza in Newman. In addition, the county will pave more than 55 miles of road with stimulus funds.
"There are some fantastic things that will take place," Philips said.
Still, it's unclear how those projects will affect overall unemployment once they start.
AP's analysis, which was reviewed by independent economists at five universities, shows the president's strategy hasn't affected unemployment rates to this point. And there's concern it won't work again as a second stimulus bill if more road and bridge spending works its way through Congress.
For its analysis, AP examined the effects of road and bridge spending in communities on local unemployment; it did not try to measure results of the broader aid that also was in the first stimulus, such as tax cuts, unemployment benefits or money for states.
More aid? Not so fast
"My bottom line is, I'd be skeptical about putting too much more money into a second stimulus until we've seen broader effects from the first stimulus," said Aaron Jackson, an economist at Bentley University near Boston who reviewed AP's analysis.
Even within the construction industry, which stood to benefit the most from transportation money, 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.
Bill Bassitt, chief executive officer of the Stanislaus County Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, said the AP results don't surprise him. He said he thinks even when construction goes into full swing, job growth will be minimal.
"That doesn't create any kind of sustainable employment," he said. "It's only specific to that project."
Bassitt prefers government funding that would be aimed at the businesses themselves, to open or reinvest and therefore create long-term jobs.
Clark Hulbert, regional operation manager of Teichert Construction in Turlock, said the federal funding hasn't increased his work force. But he said it hasn't hurt, either.
"Maybe we're not losing ground as quick with the stimulus projects," he said.
Modesto contractor Gregory Reed, whose family-run George Reed Inc. builds roads, said only about 7 percent of his company's budgeted projects involve stimulus funding. He said the company hasn't added any permanent, part-time or temporary workers because of the stimulus.
"Anything added on by federal (dollars) didn't bring it back to that level we had before because of the state (budget) cuts," he said. But he still thinks more federal funding could be helpful.
"History has shown the more money put in infrastructure does trickle down, it just hasn't helped yet," Reed said. "But it doesn't mean it won't."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2284.