Government Accountability Office Issues Testimony on States’ Use of Recovery Act Highway Funds

In a testimony to the US House Committee on Transportation and Infastructure last Friday (July 31, 2009), the US Government Accountability Office issued an update to their July 8, 2009 GAO report GAO-09-829, containing more recent data examining “States’ Use of Highway Infrastructure Funds and Compliance with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)”.  The report analyzed the ARRA’s allocation of more than $48 billion for the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) investment in transportation infrastructure, including highways, rail, and transit.

The testimony stated that “a substantial portion of Recovery Act highway funds have been obligated, with most funded projects focusing on pavement improvements. In March 2009, $26.7 billion was apportioned to 50 states and the District for highway infrastructure and other eligible projects. As of July 17, 2009, $16.8 billion of the apportioned funds had been obligated for over 5,700 projects nationwide. About half of the funds has been obligated for pavement improvements such as reconstructing or rehabilitating roads; 17 percent has been obligated for pavement-widening projects; and about 12 percent has been obligated for bridge projects. Remaining funds were obligated for the construction of new roads and safety projects, among other things.”

It appears that about half of the ARRA transportation funds follow the “fix it first” mantra, with little environmental review being needed to complete existing road rehabilitation.  $2.9 billion will be spent on “shovel-ready” roadway-widening projects nationwide, and $2 billion for bridge projects.  However, of 2,476 bridges scheduled to receive stimulus funding so far, 45 percent have passed inspections with high marks according to the National Bridge Inventory.  These 1,123 bridges would not qualify for federal bridge money under the guidelines of the Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program, however, the language in the ARRA did not require that bridges must be deficient.  Over 150,000 other bridges are listed as structurally deficient or obsolete in the National Bridge Inventory.

Regarding job-creation: State DOTs and transit agencies reported that 2,522 projects have started in all 50 states and D.C., “creating or sustaining” 48,000 jobs involving direct work. Indirect involvement, such as the manufacture of new buses or asphalt for repaving, was credited with “tens of thousands” of jobs.

For the already approved DOT ARRA projects (“first 100 days” projects), here is a basic breakdown of project types:

Bridge Improvement                           $243,224,898
Bridge Replacement                             $317,753,387
Pavement Improvement                   $2,775,746,301
Safety/Traffic Management             $330,693,070
Transportation Enhancements       $116,013,874

New Bridge Construction                  $66,531,440
New Construction                                $445,533,715
Pavement Widening                            $899,796,458