The stimulus package requires that state transportation agencies give priority to “economically distressed” areas in allocating money to highway projects. An economically distressed area is defined as a county with a per capital income that is no more than 80% of the national average, or a county with an unemployment rate that is at least 1% above the national average. Here are the counties in Texas that are eligible: Bee Cameron Coke Dimmit El Paso Hidalgo Houston Jasper Loving Matagorda Maverick Newton Polk Presidio Sabine San Augustine Starr Terrell Willacy Zavala Note to readers: This list is incomplete. I received a pdf file of the letter from Congressman Oberstar to Jim Dunnam. The letter contained two separate lists of all 254 Texas counties, one for each of the criteria (unemployment rate and personal income, each compared to the national average). Frankly, it never occurred to me that there was a second list separate from the first list. Nor can I figure out why the good congressman didn’t simply send ONE list with TWO columns for the two criteria. In any event, there are many more counties eligible than I first indicated. * * * The obvious fact about this list is that, with the exception of El Paso, it is overwhelmingly rural. I don’t want to be hardhearted about this, but the problems of most of these counties is endemic. Spending a few dollars for highway maintenance in Newton County is not going to change the economic fundamentals of Newton County. Loving County has fewer than a hundred residents and just two highways, one of which is 11 miles long. Prioritizing these counties doesn’t make much sense. On the other hand, spending money in Cameron County can produce some economic results beyond temporary payrolls. The same is true for El Paso. You can improve mobility in urbanized areas. I think the “economically distressed” requirement is silly. Any money that is spent in most of these sparsely populated rural counties is going to have little lasting impact.
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