Federal bill funds highway, transit, safety projects
by Mary Scott Nabers,
CEO of Strategic Partnerships, Inc.
Highway capacity in the United States has been growing slowly in recent years. Government officials hope to reverse the trend. With the recent signing into law of the federal transportation bill, there is at least some hope.
The signing of the $100 billion federal bill was historic – and significant – because it was the first major surface transportation law Congress has approved since 2005. The last transportation bill expired in 2009 and nine short-term extensions had been tacked on over the years. What Congress passed is a two-year surface reauthorization bill that funds highway, transit and safety programs at current funding levels through the end of FY 2014.
While the new bill provides some relief along with guaranteed funding, more funding was needed. There are more than 4 million miles of roads in the United States and the country spends more money repairing and maintaining current roads and bridges than it does on new construction.
Passage of the bill was heralded in Los Angeles, where officials plan to use the new funding to assist with dozens of regional projects. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to apply for $2 billion in grants for its subway extension to the Westside and a downtown light rail line to connect existing rail lines. Metro also will be seeking approximately $2.3 billion in low-cost loans for highway improvements over the next decade.
Officials in Illinois say the bill will provide $4.1 billion dollars for the state’s highways and $1.5 billion for Illinois public transit over the next three years.
Approximately 11,000 construction jobs are expected in Massachusetts as a result of the federal bill. Over the next two years, the state will receive $1.2 billion for road and bridge work and another $345 million for public transportation. Nearly 40 other road and bridge projects also are expected to be funded.
Continued development of the Interstate 69 project in Texas will also benefit from the funding in the bill. The planned I-69 project will help route cargo and passenger traffic from the Rio Grande border with Mexico northward to major Texas seaports and beyond. The state also plans to leverage its resources with these federal funds to complete other projects.
The bill provides additional funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program, which New York officials hope they can tap for a low-interest loan to help finance a $5 billion project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge.
In Pennsylvania, officials say they are hopeful passage of the bill will allow them to secure the additional $35 million needed to finish Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale.
New Hampshire officials recently secured state bonding for a widening project of Interstate 93 from the Massachusetts border to Windham, along with the addition of several interchanges. Passage of the transportation bill now ensures federal funds will be available to help pay back the $115 million in bond funds.
The good news is that public officials have spending authority up to $100 billion. The bad news is that billions more are needed. The Federal Highway Administration says that government should be investing $139 billion each year in highway improvements just to maintain the current conditions of roads and bridges. If construction costs grow at the same rate as the overall inflation rate, that figure could grow to $150 billion by 2015.
Passage of the federal transportation bill will result in a myriad of opportunities for public-private partnerships as state and local governments seek to leverage their existing transportation funds.