Editor's Note: All week, CNN examines the stimulus and looks at one of the greatest areas of concern for Americans: the economy. Today, our Christine Romans finds out why a bridge that was built to make residents safe is now being called a waste of their money. Friday on American Morning, our Gerri Willis has the story of one man in Ohio who says the stimulus saved his family from losing everything and is giving them hope for the future.
By Christine Romans and Julian Cummings, CNN
Thedford, Nebraska (CNN) – Sixty to eighty trains rumble through this ranching town in the Nebraska sand hills every day. The roar of the coal cars and the scream of the whistle and the wait at the crossing for the train to pass are a way of life.
An almost $7 million coal bridge will change that. Instead of waiting for 30 seconds to 3 minutes for a train to pass, cars will now pass over the railroad tracks on a massive bridge. Since this is a town of just 168 people, the bridge is the largest per-capita stimulus project in the state.
So how does Thedford feel about its stimulus money?
"We haven’t seen any money. Not yet," says Judy Taylor, Thomas County treasurer and Thedford town chairman.
Some long-time residents openly scoff at the title of biggest per-capita recipients of stimulus dollars in the state.
Marv Blauvelt was born and raised in this town. He says the bridge is a waste.
"Well, really in all honesty we don't know what the point is, except some design engineer in Lincoln decided that this is what needed to be done and they said it would take ten to fifteen years to make it happen. Well it happened a lot quicker than that because of the stimulus," said Blauvelt.
The project was indeed "shovel ready," sitting on the books just waiting for funding. When the stimulus was passed, the process moved quickly and construction began last summer on Thedford's new bridge.
Nebraska Department of Roads Director Monty Fredrickson says the crossing was a traffic and safety issue.
"The conflict between the rail and the highway is an important feature both from a safety aspect, continuity, mobility and especially emergency services," said Frederickson.
And he defended the project, saying it would indeed stimulate the economy.
"Any project that we put on the street with stimulus money is going to create jobs, and since stimulus money is extra money, then while we're doing our regular program we'll spend the extra stimulus money and thereby getting more jobs," he told CNN.
Those jobs went to the lowest bidder for the bridge, Colorado-based Ames Construction. A company spokesperson said about 20 existing employees worked on the bridge, brought in from Denver to work on the project.
Only a few locals were hired and have since been laid off.
"I didn't gain anything from it except a part time job for a couple of months. That's it," said Trina Mintel.
Mintel was one of those workers.
"I think it's already happened and gone, you know. When they come back to pour the final you know road that might take a couple of weeks," she said.
If not jobs, then what did Thedford gain for the title of biggest per-capita spending in Nebraska?
Thedford did see some money infused into the town from the out of state construction workers staying in town.
"The filling stations might have sold gas and food. And our motel, our small motel was full. Our large motel got some. And our grocery store probably got a little bit of revenue, but we didn't see a lot," said Town Chairman Judy Taylor.
Jobs aside, most people here just don't see the point of the bridge that, when completed, will take drivers over and around tracks they have waited at for years.
"The amount of time that its take you to go around the loop to get back to the highway is probably the same amount of time you would have sat and waited for the train to go by," said Mike Hodges, who owns the local Conoco service station.
The project cut his property in two.
"It was a no-choice deal, I mean they had their mind made up, what they were gonna do, how they were gonna do it. They asked everybody's opinion, but it didn't matter," said Hodges, whose repair garage overlooks the bridge now.
One the other side of the crossing, Marv Blauvelt still wants to know how stimulus money landed in his front yard.
"We just feel like they sold us down the river really," said Blauvelt.
Maybe not a river, but a railroad.
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Complete coverage: The Stimulus Project