Carbon County is poised to receive millions of dollars in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act federal stimulus funding.
The money, part of an estimated $122.7 billion to be distributed across the country, will make driving smoother between Lehighton and Jim Thorpe, make meter-reading easier in Jim Thorpe and water to flow better in Lansford and Coaldale, according to Recovery.pa.gov, an ARRA information Web site maintained by the state.
ARRA funds are also expected to flow into local municipalities for job training, housing and education.
While Pennsylvania stands in line for more than $16 billion, it's hard to say how much money each county will get, said Barry Ciccocioppo, spokesman for the office of Gov. Ed Rendell.
"That number is growing as more federal stimulus funds are rolled out," he said. "The number is constantly changing as more stimulus programs are added unannounced."
As of Monday, Carbon County was in line for at least $5,887,485 in federal funding for highway and water related projects.
The projects include work on Route 209 from Lehighton to Jim Thorpe, a water tank system refurbishment in Lansford, water meters in Jim Thorpe, paving in Lansford and an underground oil tank removal in Summit Hill.
"Stimulus funding is working in Pennsylvania," Ciccocioppo said. He offered as examples the additional funding being given school districts, and transportation and water projects that would not be done or be ready to be done without the money.
Ciccocioppo also referred to the "direct benefits people are receiving. People may have forgotten by now there is less federal withholding from their paychecks that's stimulus funds. On the surface, it may not appear there as a lot of stimulus money at work. But look behind the scenes at what's happening. There is a lot of work going on in Pennsylvania."
The program is expected to create or retain an estimated 143,000 jobs statewide, Ciccocioppo said. Not included in the count are the "ripple effect" jobs. For example, the food vendors from which construction workers buy their lunches and the businesses that sell materials used in stimulus-funded projects.
So how much stimulus money will Pennsylvania get? "Well above $16 billion," Ciccocioppo said. "That number is growing as more fed stimulus funds are rolled out."
But it's tough to pinpoint actual figures.
"The number is constantly changing as more stimulus programs are added unannounced," he said.
While at least two elected officials praise the program, another believes it's lacking.
"The stimulus plan has had an enormous effect on Carbon County in terms of economic impact and our communities' abilities to help constituents. It resulted in an influx of millions of dollars for programs all around us, some even without the public's awareness of it," said Democratic Carbon County Commissioners Chairman William O'Gurek.
"Besides monies for our schools and highways, throughout the process, Carbon County will have received funds for social programs such as children and family programs, tax rebates, unemployment compensation assistance and extensions, supplemental nutrition and housing. We will also benefit from funds being available to us for workforce development and training, transportation, sewer and water improvements, weatherization and even homelessness programs," he said. "As commissioners, we are appreciative of the federal government's initiatives to enhance the quality of life of Americans during this most difficult time."
But state Sen. David G. Argall, a Republican, said the program fails to fix what's broken.
"One of the concerns early on was that it wasn't nearly as much as we had been led to believe," he said. People were disappointed in the amounts allocated for roads and bridges. "We're just in the process of starting to sort out the facts," Argall said.
More money should have been allocated to repair the nation's crumbling roads and bridges, he believes.
"There was a general consensus, among Republicans and Democrats and across the country, that (infrastructure) is one area where we really need to concentrate we know we have a bridge problem," Argall said.
In addition to the obvious need for repairs, road and bridge construction creates a significant number of jobs, he said.
All in all, "What we've seen hasn't been very impressive," Argall said.
However, Ciccocioppo said that Pennsylvania is "ranked fourth in country for getting transportation stimulus dollars."
Rendell on Friday announced stimulus funds have been allocated to several more infrastructure projects. In Monroe County, the projects include $11.7 million for milling, patching and overlay of Interstate 80 westbound between I-380 and Route 115. Reconstruction of I-80 eastbound and westbound between Route 115 and the Carbon County line and the ramps at the interchange with Route 115. Also, $4.5 million for the restoration of Route 33, including the Sciota and Snydersville ramps and a section of U.S. 209, between the bridge over Bossardsville Road to Interstate 80 in Hamilton and Stroud townships. In Schuylkill County, $18.5 million will go toward milling, patching and overlay of I-81 from the Luzerne County line to Route 54, including the interchange ramps at Mahanoy City and Delano and reconstruction of the Route 309 interchange ramps. Also, $3.9 million will be used for resurfacing of Route 54 from the bridge over the Reading and Blue Mountain Railroad, near Coles Street in Mahanoy Township through Mahanoy City to the Ryan Township line.
U.S. Congressman Paul Kanjorski, a Democrat, is happy with stimulus program.
"We live in difficult economic times and the recovery package is providing funding for needed projects and creating jobs throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania," he said. "Throughout the area, including in Carbon and Monroe counties, the recovery package has dedicated millions of dollars to education programs, transportation and infrastructure projects, job training, and military funding, among other programs. For example, Tobyhanna Army Depot had the foresight to anticipate their future needs by having a 'wish list' of potential projects ready for implementation so that they could be undertaken immediately after receiving funding. As a result, so far Tobyhanna has received $5.2 million from the recovery package to improve military housing and other infrastructure projects, thereby creating 100 jobs."
Congress on Feb. 13, 2009, passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. President Barack Obama signed it into law on Feb. 17, 2009.