WRAL Investigates

Tax money spent to advertise stimulus projects

Posted December 22, 2009 6:18 p.m. EST
Updated December 22, 2009 6:32 p.m. EST

— The state Department of Transportation has spent $135,000 in taxpayer funds to install signs touting road projects paid for with more than $800 million in federal stimulus money.

Signs like one on the Fayetteville loop highway construction project near Fort Bragg aren't directional and don't point drivers to any construction detours. They simply note that the particular project was "funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act."

"If we couldn't laugh, we would be crying," said Ronnie Tart, who owns a used car dealership down the road from the Fayetteville highway project.

Tart said he has waited for years for the project to start, but he said he can't believe tax dollars are being used to remind him how his tax dollars are being used.

"That's almost a slap in the face to say, 'Here's only a little bit of how badly we've spent your money, but we want to remind you,'" he said.

The federal money the DOT is using to erect 54 signs across the state – each costs about $2,500 – doesn't come from the economic stimulus package. It's discretionary money the state could have used on road construction or maintenance.

"It irritates me," said Wes Lewis, who drives by one of the signs almost daily. "I think the money could be better spent somewhere else. They could use it on the road. If they want to let everybody know, they could put it in the paper what they're using the money for instead of spending so much on signs."

DOT Traffic Engineer Kevin Lacy argued that the stimulus projects are important investments, and educating people on where their money is going is a valid expense.

"I do understand their position. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I do understand it," Lacy said of the sign critics.

The U.S. Department of Transportation encourages all states to install the signs, he said, adding that North Carolina will recycle its 54 signs once the stimulus projects they advertise are completed.

Lacy also pointed out that the company that made the signs benefited, which is what the stimulus projects are designed to do.

"We're in unusual times, and (we're) letting people know there is an effort going on that helps people get back to work," he said. "It was important."