The Stimulus Shuffle

HOST: Mayor Bloomberg last week laid out a plan to spend $260 million in transportation money from the federal stimulus bill. It’ll go to the Brooklyn Bridge, the Staten Island Ferry terminal, and new sidewalk furniture in Bedford Stuyvesant – sort of. WNYC’s Matthew Schuerman explains the “stimulus shuffle.”

REPORTER: If the mayor gets his way, the Brooklyn Bridge is going to be one of six big projects around the city to receive federal stimulus money. He will apply $47 million of New York’s portion of the package towards a $380 million makeover of the bridge: the approach ramps will be widened and redone, and the entire structure repainted.

But that’s not really where the stimulus money is going.

Bloomberg explained he was planning on funding the Brooklyn Bridge rehab anyway.

So the money that would have gone to that and other major projects is going to 25 smaller projects scattered, as it happens, across the five boroughs.

The six big projects are ready to go, while the 25 smaller ones need more planning and design work.

Seven million dollars is going for a streetscape project in central Brooklyn, right where the Long Island Rail Road dips underground.

BRAITHWAITE: It’s going to help us to really change the face of the business district in terms of its physical nature.

REPORTER: Edmon Braithwaite owns a liquor store at Nostrand and Atlantic. He is also co-chairman of the steering committee for the new Bed-Stuy Gateway Business Improvement District. Braithwaite says the money will help make this area a key shopping destination.

BRAITHWAITE: It will allow us to put some benches along the sidewalks in the business district. It’s also going to allow us to put some trees.

REPORTER: The city had also been planning to spend its money on the 25 smaller projects that will receive the displaced funds. It was last year, in fact, that Braithwaite got the new the Mayor had committed $8 million to his neighborhood’s streetscaping. But then, earlier this year, Bloomberg said he would have to scale back capital spending although he never determined which projects will be cut or delayed.

BRAITHWAITE: I’m not actually sure that we actually lost it because nobody mentioned it, until you mentioned it yesterday. But if we did lose it, I’m happy we got it back. I’m very happy we got it back. Because we need it, yes.

REPORTER: According to federal highway officials, there’s nothing wrong with this kind of “stimulus shuffle.” If stimulus money goes to a project that was slated to receive state resources, the Governor has to guarantee that those resources be spent within a year and a half on a similar transportation project. Mayors don’t need to follow that requirement, but Bloomberg’s aides say he is.

Projects like this one, at the Brooklyn Bridge, have been years in the planning – that’s why it’s ready to go in the tight four-month window the federal government requires. But shovel-ready projects aren’t going to create any new jobs. Nor will the new jobs come quickly. Instead, the impact of the stimulus package will be found in Bed-Stuy and elsewhere in the city, later this year, or next, or the following year, once the 25 smaller projects break ground.