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Federal Transportation Bill

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

10:05 AM PDT on October 5, 2009

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."

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