Following an emergency meeting today to discuss the impact of the current shutdown of federal highway and transit programs, state transportation officials called the action "a bad situation and it's only going to get worse."
At a news conference held in conjunction with the annual Washington Briefing of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), leaders from across the country spoke out on the issue.
"If you do the math, we're talking about more than $153 million a day in lost reimbursement payments for highway projects to the states," said Larry L. "Butch" Brown, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation and AASHTO president. "Congress has to move quickly to correct this by passing legislation and getting it signed into law. This is a bad situation and it's only going to get worse."
On Sunday, February 28, the current extension of the surface transportation program expired, leading to a shutdown in reimbursements to states for highway projects and transit programs administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). According to FHWA, the shutdown means that $768 million in highway outlays and $157 million in transit outlays for the week ending March 5th could be affected. On Tuesday, March 2, an estimated 4,000 federal highway, transit, and safety personnel at FHWA, FTA, NHTSA, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration must be furloughed, putting a halt to federal project approvals, safety enforcement, and transit starts.
"The timing could not be worse for a lot of reasons," said Susan Martinovich, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation and AASHTO vice president. "States need every dollar they can get to improve our aging roads and bridges and put people to work. My home state of Nevada has the nation's seventh-highest unemployment rate at 10.4 percent. We should be awarding contracts for spring construction right now, but instead many states are forced to delay, and in some cases cancel, projects."
"This crisis is just the latest example of why states need either a long-term extension of highway and transit programs or a multi-year authorization bill," said Pete Rahn, director of the Missouri Department of Transportation. "If Missouri and other states aren't able to plan major, long-term projects, then contractors can't hire workers or purchase new equipment. The result will be higher unemployment and more economic stagnation. Going from one extension to the next and one crisis to another is not the answer," Rahn said.
The action could also cause states to lose some unspent recovery funds, since March 2nd is the deadline set by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the redistribution of any highway funds not approved by the FHWA. To date, there have been three short-term extensions of SAFETEA-LU, the highway and transit authorization bill that expired September 30, 2009.
The AASHTO officials were joined by more than 200 state transportation leaders from 36 states and Washington, D.C. at the AASHTO Briefing, held in Arlington, Virginia, from March 1–3.