Congress’ Transport Impasse Hits States — and Not Just Their Road Funds

When lawmakers failed on Wednesday
to reach a deal on avoiding the cancellation of $8.7 billion in
transportation spending authority, the consequences of Congress’
inaction weren’t immediately palpable to most voters — but the loss is
sinking in on the local level.

13MVC-013L_1.JPG(Photo: USGS.gov)

From Texas to New Jersey to Colorado, local DOT officials are starting to lament the loss of
federal funds that resulted from lawmakers’ decision to give themselves
one more month to resolve the stalemate over extending the 2005 federal
infrastructure law.

And while the $8.7 billion cancellation is mostly imperiling road work, at least one state is cutting money for "enhancements," the catch-all term for bike paths, greenways, and other clean transport projects: 

Even though Congress has passed a one-month extension of the federal
highway bill, Tennessee will still lose $190 million it had not yet
contracted out.

State transportation officials say $30 million will come out of money for enhancement grants.

Enhancement grants have been made for cities to restore old train
stations and build bike lanes or sidewalks. They are typically
unconventional transportation projects, and TDOT spokeswoman Julie
Oakes says competition is stiff.

It’s
unclear how many states are following Tennessee’s lead, but we’ve got
feelers out to various state DOTs and will update this post as more
information becomes available. If any readers know of clean
transportation projects that have been put at risk by the $8.7 bilion
cancellation, please tell us more in the comments section.

Even
states that are slicing only highway projects, however, are grappling
with the fiscal uncertainty caused by the cancellation. Colorado’s two
Democratic senators noted last week that their state’s scheduled loss
of $115 million amounts to one-quarter of the total transportation aid
they received under the economic stimulus law.

Congress
still has the power to replenish the cancelled spending authority,
whether this month or next. But given  House budget rules that require
most new funds to be offset, and conservative senators’ insistence on
using stimulus money for that offset, an agreement may be hard to come
by this week.

Late Update: Here’s another example of
the $8.7 billion cancellation affecting more than just roads. The
Nevada DOT says it’s having to cut $8 million from transportation
enhancements, as well as $4 million in funding for federal Congestion
Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) projects and $4 million from the Safe
Routes to School program.

The
state typically uses CMAQ money on new transit buses for Las Vegas and
Reno, as well as ride-share programs to reduce transportation demand
and "channelization" work that aim to manage traffic more efficiently,
according to Kent Cooper, the Nevada DOT’s assistant director of
engineering.

"It’s a very difficult economic time, and there’s a huge
impact to the state of Nevada in terms of being able to get contracts
out,"Cooper said in an interview . "We got the stimulus money about
five or six months ago. This seems to be reversing the impact of
providing that stimulus money."

  • Steve Kirkikis

    As bad as it is for the states to lose $8.7 billion of unobligated federal-aid highway apportionments in one fiscal year, Congresses and Presidents since fiscal year 2003 — prior to this $8.7 billion rescission — have rescinded $16,206,242,500 of unobligated federal-aid highway apportionments, and regrettably, no one made any complaint about these rescissions until this latest rescission of $8.7 billion that became effective September 30, 2009.

    When all the rescissions are added since 2003, the states have lost $24,914,242,500 of unobligated federal-aid highway apportionments.

    The complaints about the rescissions should have started in 2003.

    I recommend that you publish a follow-up article stating that rescissions have taken place since 2003 and the states have lost a total of $24,914,242,000.

    Please note that these huge sums of unobligated apportionments have accumulated because obligation limitations always are a smaller sum than the sum for apportioned funds in any fiscal year; therefore, “unobligated apportionments” accumulated.

    If Presidents and Congresses had distributed sufficient obligation limitations to match the apportionments distributed every year; or, obligation limitations would not apply to apportionments, this problem of rescissions would never have occurred.

    Also, please note that this $8.7 billion that was rescinded September 30, 2009, and the $24.9 billion that has been rescinded since 2003, are not ‘cash’, but federal-aid highway funds that were authorized to be appropriated but never provided the obligation authority to be spent by the states.

    So, in the final analysis, the states did not ‘lose’ any federal-aid highway funds because these unobligated apportionments are just that: funds that were authorized but never appropriated.

    The documentation of these rescissions has been published in Federal Highway Administration Notices, as follows:
    RESCISSIONS
    FY 2003 — FHWA Notice Classification Code: N4510.508 $ 250,000,000
    FY 2004 — FHWA Notice Classification Code: N4510.515 $ 207,000,000
    FY 2005 — FHWA Notice Classification Code: N4510.540 $ 1,261,277,000
    FY 2006 — FHWA Notice Classification Code: N4510.578 $ 1,999,999,000
    FY 2006 — FHWA Notice Classification Code: N4510.588 $ 1,143,000,000
    FY 2006 — FHWA Notice Classification Code: N4510.606 $ 702,362,500
    FY 2007 — FHWA Notice Classification Code: N4510.643 $ 3,471,582,000
    FY 2007 — FHWA Notice Classification Code: N4510.647 $ 871,022,000
    FY 2008 — FHWA Notice Classification Code: N4510.673 $ 3,150,000,000
    FY 2009 — FHWA Notice Classification Code: N5410.707 $ 3,150,000,000
    FY 2009 — FHWA Notice Classification Code: N4510.711 $ 8,708,000,000
    TOTAL RESCISSIONS $24,914,242,000

  • Dan Gentry

    From FHWA info on the final rescinded amounts, $474 million was rescinded from unobligated Transportation Enhancement funds under the $8.7B T-LU rescission. Don’t blame the state DOTs though – Congress enacted a change in late 2007 that mandates that states rescind funds proportionally from each program category – including Enhancements. Before this, states had discretion about how much of their rescission amount would be taken from each category. However States now have very little discretion to alter the proportional reductions.

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