Santa Barbara County began $2.6 million in infrastructure upgrades last week with funding from federal economic stimulus money.

The federal money will fund projects aimed at repairing bridges and roads and will pay for installing new sidewalks throughout the county. An additional $3.7 million of federal money will be used for similar projects slated to begin by October.

County Public Works Director Scott McGolpin said federal money has allowed the county to undertake long-needed repairs that have previously lacked funding.

“Without the economic stimulus, these are projects we certainly wouldn’t be getting to,” McGolpin said. “The stimulus has allowed us to put this work on the street.”

For sidewalk repairs, Public Works has hired contractors to install 3,825 feet of sidewalk in unincorporated areas of Goleta, Vandenberg Village and Orcutt. An additional 1,830 feet of existing sidewalk will also be repaired. Sidewalks will also be made more usable for the disabled, with 21 new curbs ramps planned for installation.

Contractors are also working on county bridges. Bridges on San Marcos Road, Paradise Road, Foxen Canyon Road and other locations will be fitted with waterproof sealants. The work, which will be completed by Granite Construction Compan, has also led to job openings, as the company hired more crew members to complete the project.

“It allowed them to rehire 60 percent of their paving crew,” McGolpin said.

UCSB economics professor Peter Rupert said employment opportunities for firms like Granite are exactly what the Obama administration intends with the stimulus plan. However, he said such benefits will come at a cost.

“The next thing to think about is that this money is going to have to be paid back at some point, which means higher taxes,” Rupert said.

The stimulus money stems from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The act, which passed in February, allotted $787 billion of federal money in hopes of stimulating the economy. Much of the money goes to state and local governments for infrastructure projects and social programs.

So far, $150 million in federal stimulus money has poured into Santa Barbara County. According to William Boyer, the county communications director, the vast majority of this money has gone to county projects as opposed to government agencies.

“It’s fair to say that about $17 million of economic stimulus money is in fact coming to the county,” Boyer said.

The rest of the money has gone to other government projects and agencies. For example, $40 million has served to reinforce the Santa Maria River levee and $32 million has gone to military installations such as Vandenberg Air Force Base.

While $2.6 million will allow for large infrastructure upgrades, McGolpin noted that the county would require $230 million to fix all county roads, sidewalks and bridges.