February 18, 2009
Yager pushes for stimulus money to go to rural counties
and those hardest hit by unemployment
(NASHVILLE, TN), February 18, 2009 — With approximately $4.3 billion headed to Tennessee in the stimulus package signed into law this week, State Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman) wants to make sure the money is headed for local roads in communities hardest hit by unemployment. Yager, who represents three counties with double digit unemployment, questioned Transportation Commissioner Gerald Nicely at a meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee in Nashville on Wednesday about how the projects funded with stimulus money would be prioritized.
“I serve a very rural district,” said Sen. Yager. “Ironically and unfortunately, some of the counties in my district that have the highest unemployment are apparently not on any short list for stimulus money. An example that comes to mind is Rhea County.”
Bredesen Administration officials and state lawmakers are still looking at details of the stimulus package. However, Nicely said that language in the legislation gives preference to sending the transportation money to “economically distressed areas” with high unemployment. Nicely also said they will be utilizing a list of priority projects that are “shovel ready” but still await funding. Some of those projects may not be in areas listed as economically distressed.
“I encourage you, when you make these decisions, that you at least look at the unemployment rates in some of these counties,” Yager continued. “If this is going to be a stimulus bill, we need to get money for roads into those counties.”
“The other two counties I represent with double digit unemployment are Fentress and Scott Counties,” he added.
Yager also questioned Nicely about the transit funds in the stimulus package. Nicely said $15 million are earmarked to go to rural areas for transit needs.
“Our rural communities may not have the same type of transit needs as the metropolitan areas, but will still have a great need for transit,” added Yager.
Nicely told the committee that he expects to have the transportation projects under construction within the first 120 days. State and local governments have been working to get the project “shovel ready.” The projects must be eligible for federal funding and be complete within three years.
“This is not an issue of whether or not there should be a stimulus package. That decision has been made in Washington. I just want to make sure that when the distribution of this money occurs at the state level, our small rural counties receive their share of these funds,” he concluded.