It is time for new infrastructure projects to get under way across the nation as the spring of 2017 commences and winter’s storms and frozen ground fade into memory. But state departments of transportation are still waiting to access hefty amounts of funds left frozen by Congress.
As reported by the AASHTO Journal of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, the dilemma is that Congress authorized the extra funding in a 2015 multiyear surface transportation law but is refusing to release the additional money until lawmakers can hammer out this year’s federal budget.
Caught in the middle are stakeholders like state DOTs. The amounts of frozen funding vary for each state based on a formula, but they total more than $1 billion nationwide when looking at the entire fiscal year. In each state, however, the extra funding would be enough to have launched more projects this spring if the money was already cleared to use.
“This really adds up for state DOTs, and is now starting to cause headaches for some that face tight deadlines to wrap up their 2017 project budgets and lock in construction contracts,” said AASHTO policy director Joung Lee.
The amount of money Congress has frozen ranges from Texas, on the high end, totaling $82.7 million, to Wyoming, near the low end, totaling nearly $5.5 million.
“Particularly for states in northern areas with short construction seasons, not having their full federal funding assured by late April makes it harder for them to put federal funds to work,” Lee added.
The delayed funding increases also come as the transportation sector faces a possible reduction in the USDOT’s TIGER grant program this year, which Congress in recent years has funded at $500 million. President Donald Trump has proposed to strip TIGER completely out of his 2018 budget, and is urging lawmakers to also zero it out of the 2017 budget deal they are trying to complete, but appropriators could decide to continue TIGER at some level for the rest of this year.
In addition, the industry is waiting for the administration to award $850 million in new FAST Act–authorized grants for projects of regional and national significance including freight projects that are paid for out of the Highway Trust Fund’s highway account. The Obama administration accepted applications for what it called those Fastlane grants late last year, and it is up to the Trump administration to submit to Congress a list of proposed award winners.