Some high-dollar projects waiting in limbo to be funded
The state of Maryland has been fortunate, so far, to receive all the right funding for its Purple Line light-rail construction project. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and United States Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao participated in a ceremonial signing this week of the Purple Line light-rail construction federal full funding grant agreement. The signed grant will enable the state to access the $900 million in federal funds proposed for the project—including $325 million already appropriated for it.
The $2 billion project, which is being financed by a mix of federal grants, state funding and local dollars, will improve transportation between the traffic-congested areas of Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, which are suburbs of the nation’s capital. The cost to design, build and operate the line is estimated at about $5.6 billion. The Purple Line, connecting to Metro, MARC and Amtrak, will consist of a 16-mile rail line with 21 stations and is expected to be completed by 2022. The project is one of the largest public-private partnerships (P3) ever undertaken in the U.S.
Funding for infrastructure projects, large and small, is great when it’s available through city, county or state funds, the federal government or P3 engagements. But if there is no available funding, the projects languish.
The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) announced last week that a new $62 million, two-lane bridge carrying Route 67 over the Illinois River at Beardstown has been included in the department’s multi-year plan for fiscal years 2018–2023. That means funding is in place to construct the bridge. The ultimate goal was to make a four-lane bridge over the Illinois River at Beardstown, but IDOT said the addition would cost an extra $40 million. So, the current funding will carry a single lane of traffic in each direction until money is available to complete the second span.
IDOT officials also shared that a summer 2018 contract will be in place to do additional patching and joint repair on the existing Route 67 Beardstown bridge to help maintain it until the new span can be built. The Beardstown river crossing is part of the ongoing 28-year, $3 billion effort to convert 228 miles of Route 67 from a two-lane highway to a four-lane expressway from Godfrey to Rock Island. To date, an estimated $1 billion has been spent and 123 miles completed on the project.
A $9.5 billion rail transit project in Hawaii is in limbo. The project is halfway complete and is facing a budget shortfall of $3 billion. But the commuter line, in the works in and around Honolulu for more than a decade, is less than halfway complete and facing a budget shortfall of up to $3 billion. A bill that would generate almost $2.4 billion to bail out the city’s troubled rail project passed its second reading in the state Senate yesterday.
The bill will be heard on the Senate floor once again today. If approved, the measure will then head over to the House of Representatives for consideration. The city has until Sept. 15 to show the Federal Transit Administration how it plans to raise the money to cover the project’s budget shortfall or it risks losing $1.55 billion in federal grant funding it has already received.
Advocates continue the hunt for money through government and private sources to fund a $40 million master plan to rehabilitate the Louisiana State University lakes. A plan to dredge the lakes, build bike paths and form new wetlands and more was unveiled two years ago. The lakes are designed to be 6 feet deep, but are only 2.5 feet deep on average, meaning they are slowly turning into cypress swamps. The lakes are filling with sediment, a process that over time will cause them to revert to marsh. Even an LSU associate professor of hydrology stopped monitoring the lakes years ago due to lack of funding support.
One of the challenges is Louisiana’s current budget situation. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation is looking into whether the project could qualify for money through the U.S. Department of the Interior or whether it could receive money from the BP oil spill settlement. The organization is also considering whether private donations or a tax could factor into the funding.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) Commission announced last week that the $130 million State Route 16 bypass, also known as the Philadelphia Bypass, has been shelved in Neshoba County. In order to meet the increasing needs of Mississippi’s transportation infrastructure, including capacity projects such as the Philadelphia Bypass, MDOT would need an additional $400 million per year. The project was developed to direct commercial vehicle traffic away from downtown Philadelphia.
The Neshoba County’s legislative delegation said despite the decision to halt the bypass, they have no intentions of giving up on identifying funding sources. MDOT officials said that they would continue to push to find funding sources for this very important and long-awaited project. The legislature did appropriate $750,000 in 2016 to fund some of the construction and $5.3 million was set aside for right-of-way acquisition. The bypass project has been discussed in the community for the past 25 years, and $250 million in private and public-sector investments have been made in that area in the past two years.
For several years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been pursuing a new headquarters and has worked with the General Services Administration (GSA), which manages federal real estate, on a plan to trade away the J. Edgar Hoover Building to a real estate developer and put up nearly $2 billion in taxpayer funds to cover the remaining cost of building a modern site. One type of transaction, called a swap exchange, enables GSA to apply the value of federal property to finance construction without relying on appropriated funds. Under such an exchange, GSA transfers the title of the unneeded property to a private investor after receiving the agreed upon construction services at another location. GSA proposed a swap exchange procurement for construction of a new FBI headquarters building in exchange for the Hoover Building and appropriations to compensate for the difference in value between the Hoover Building and the new building.
After spending an estimated $20 million on its plan, which would have consolidated the FBI in Greenbelt, Md., Landover, Md., or Springfield, Va., the GSA stopped the plan in July because the project’s uncertainty and lack of funding. There is always a chance that the GSA could start a new process where it left off with the last one, by selecting one of those three sites and then seeking developers to build a new headquarters for the FBI.
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