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Monday, March 9, 2009 | Vista won’t get those welcome signs after all. And the $787 billion federal stimulus plan won’t build a new lawn bowling green for Coronado.

While those and many other of the region’s grand stimulus plans have been scaled down or scrapped, local government agencies in San Diego are still poised to receive several hundred million in federal money in coming months. With details starting to percolate throughout the region, officials are sketching their plans for spending the federal government’s cash.

The federal recession-busting effort will likely fund construction of part of the six-lane Interstate 905 near the U.S.-Mexico border, widen part of Highway 76 in North County and repair trolley lines from downtown to the border.

In Chula Vista, it will likely replace street lights, improve drainage along a major street and modernize the 30-year-old water heating system at a municipal pool.

In San Diego, it will help improve energy efficiency in city buildings and boost spending on homeless prevention and law enforcement.

Almost a month after receiving congressional approval, many of the stimulus package’s local impacts remain murky. Cities are unsure exactly how much they’ll get, what the criteria for spending it will be or when job-creating projects will start. The city of San Diego expects about $14 million in grants to arrive during the next two months, said Rachel Laing, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jerry Sanders.

The city believes it’ll receive another $10 million to spend on energy efficiency upgrades, but doesn’t know when that money will be distributed. San Diego and municipalities around the region also plan to compete for other grants, but don’t know how much they may receive.

Any stimulus money won’t go to plug the city’s projected $42 million to $54 million budget gap for the upcoming year, Sanders recently said during a CNN interview. “These are long-term investments that will benefit the San Diego region long into the 2050s,” Sanders said.

The biggest influx figures to be in transportation and transit. The San Diego Association of Governments expects to receive $135 million for construction projects, executive director Gary Gallegos said, and another $60 million for mass transit.

Instead of spreading the money across several projects, Gallegos said Sandag will concentrate it on a few highly visible efforts — likely Interstate 905 and Highway 76. Transit funding will likely be used to repair aging electrical lines on the trolley’s blue line, which connects downtown with San Ysidro. In North County, it will probably be used to rehabilitate the rail bridge over the Santa Margarita River and Trestles Bridge north of Oceanside, Gallegos said. No final decisions have been made.

Chula Vista has already identified several targets for the $3.5 million to $6.5 million the city hopes to receive. With an expected $2 million grant for energy efficiency, the city wants to upgrade the 30-year-old heating system that keeps the Parkway Pool warm, a step that could annually save an estimated $35,000 in natural gas costs, said Rick Hopkins, the city’s public works director.

The city hopes to spend $500,000 on sidewalk repairs in southwestern Chula Vista. Another grant between $500,000 and $3.5 million will repave roads and improve drainage on North Broadway, a street that often floods during rainstorms. The money will arrive no earlier than mid-May, Hopkins said.

Chula Vista, like other cities in the region, is drafting applications for competitive grant programs. For example, Hopkins said the city hopes to get $10 million of a $217 million nationwide pool designated for homeland security projects. If awarded, the money would be used to replaced Chula Vista’s fire station No. 5, which was built in the 1940s. “It’s a long shot,” Hopkins said.

Around the region, officials do have a palpable sense of disappointment that they’re not getting more money. After putting together a list of $7.4 billion in ready-to-go projects in December — while President Obama was considering spending hundreds of billions more on infrastructure — local officials were hopeful they’d get billions, not several hundred million. They sought $2.6 billion for road construction projects and hundreds of millions for border crossing improvements.

“It does not build that much,” Gallegos said. “While we’re grateful for the money we’re getting, we have billions of dollars in needs and we’re getting a few hundred million. We’re not going to be able to do as many projects as we needed.”

Please contact Rob Davis directly at rob.davis@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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