DOT pays $6 billion in stimulus funds over summer

(The following story by John D. Boyd appeared on The Journal of Commerce website on September 23, 2010.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. ó The Department of Transportationís push to complete infrastructure stimulus projects led it to pay out $6 billion over the summer to reimburse states for completed work, nearly a third of the amount the DOT has disbursed since the program took effect.

The recovery.gov Web site listed DOT payouts under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act totaling $19.2 billion as of Sept. 15, up from $13 billion as May ended and the busy summer construction season got under way.

The Obama administration had hoped to promote 2010ís peak-season stimulus push as its ďsummer of recovery,Ē in which ARRA spending would hit its fastest stride. Under the bill, the middle-class tax cuts and most spending programs were to pay out in the first two years, with many ending later in 2010. However, the summer stimulus push was often overlooked as a recent economic lull became so pronounced that many worried it could lead to a double-dip recession.

The DOTís normal process is to repay states for work already completed after verifying bills submitted for reimbursement. Federal officials emphasize that work can proceed once they obligate stimulus funds to a specific project, so the obligations mark the start of a job-creation effort while payouts often mark the end of a project.

The DOT reported obligating $38.7 billion of its stimulus funds to specific projects through Sept. 15, out of $48.1 billion it is authorized to spend in all under the ARRA. The bulk of its spending is through the Federal Highway Administration for road and bridge work; the FHWA has obligated stimulus money for more than 13,000 individual projects, of which over 4,000 have been completed and 7,300 are under way.

On Sept. 20, Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez joined state and local officials in New York to break ground on a Staten Island Expressway access improvements project, which received $39.5 million from the ARRA for construction costing $75 million in all.

That road is the main commuter and freight corridor of the island and one of the most heavily traveled highways in New York City with up to 190,000 vehicles daily. Its renovation includes adding lanes and ramps, widening overpasses, realigning curves and demolishing unused overpasses.

Most of the DOTís remaining unobligated stimulus money is under its $8 billion high-speed passenger rail initiative, where little has been spent so far. Several designated projects are stalled amid negotiations between states and freight rail lines over terms under which freight railroads would spend the money for track work to host more passenger train service.

In a set of policy goals they unveiled for the Nov. 2 elections, House Republican leaders proposed to cancel remaining stimulus efforts if they take control in January.

Friday, September 24, 2010
bentley@ble-t.org

http://www.ble-t.org/pr/news/headline.asp?id=31766

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