FOX 7 Investigates: Texas stimulus projects

FOX 7 Investigates: Texas stimulus projects

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It's been 5 years, but this promise of change still rings loud and clear. Responding to an economic emergency, politicians said they would inject $816 billion in stimulus cash straight into local economies.

"We will turn this around," President Obama said.

And the jobs were expected to open up immediately all because the work was "shovel ready."

But, our FOX 7 Investigation reveals shovels did not break ground as quickly as lawmakers predicted. The delay? In some cases -- 5 years. Take the Texas Department of Transportation for example. According to Recovery.gov, the government website that tracks stimulus money, TxDOT still has three projects worth $62 million. But, 60 months after the Recovery Act passed -- there's not a shovel in sight.

We wanted to talk to TxDOT about the delays, I offered a spokesperson an interview numerous times over the last month, but she declined.

Instead, she sent me an email stating that all but one of the multimillion dollar projects listed here as "not started" are still planned and scheduled for completion. They include a Ft. Worth project that should be finished by this fall and another high speed rail project that has not started, because it remains in the negotiation phase. The completion date? 2017.

But, it turns out TxDOT isn't alone in its delays. Our three month investigation reveals there's more than $200 million in unspent cash in Texas.

In some cases, recipients are reapplying to keep the funds since 4 years after approval the money was set to expire. The federal government says at least 98 projects are listed as "not yet started."

Michael Grabell is an investigative journalist with ProPublica. After years of research, he wrote this book on the stimulus. He says some of the project delays were obvious and if there was a race to use the stimulus funds, private companies have won hands down.

"Private companies had an easier time that city and state governments because they didn't have as many layers to go through to get the projects started," Grabell said.

That was the case in places like Roma, Texas.

A spokesperson for the city of 9,700 people says it still hasn't received the 20 million in USDA funds awarded back in 2010. The town's mayor said the delay was due to unforeseen problems with land acquisition and contracts.

The Texas Education Agency's Gene Acuna says of more than $100 million awarded to the agency -- 90 percent has been used. However, there were some delays that required the agency to reapply for funding that was set to expire.

"We were able to help over 100 school districts across the state of Texas and it has been extremely beneficial," Acuna said.

Acuna says the goal of the stimulus, at least from his vantage point, was not job creation. He acknowledges the majority of the TEA's projects weren't "shovel ready" and did not create a lot of job, but he says it did give Texas schools a huge push forward.

"We feel like we did the best we could with the money and helping our schools and teachers," Acuna said.

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