Midwesterners often joke that there are really only two seasons: winter and construction. And while highway improvement projects may wreak short-term havoc on commuters, their long-term positive impact is far more striking. Better driving conditions are just the beginning – roadway improvement projects help stimulate the economy by providing employment opportunities and supporting local businesses.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recently announced that the 6,000th highway construction project was approved under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. “As the nation endeavors to overcome the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, milestones like these cannot be ignored,” says John Horsley, the organization’s Executive Director.
The AASHTO reports that in the six months since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, state transportation departments have obligated 65 percent of the $27 billion allocated to infrastructure improvements.
The ARRA gives states and local governments the authority to assign the funds to highways and bridges they deem most in need of improvement. For a complete list of projects by state, visit the “Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure” page of the ARRA web site.
In addition to stimulus funds, on August 7, President Obama also signed into law HR 3357, a bill that designates a transfer of $7 billion from the U.S. Treasury’s General Fund into the Highway Trust Fund in an effort to help avoid looming cash shortfalls.
The Trust Fund, administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), is the federal government’s major source of financing for highway, road and bridge projects. Last fall, a U.S. Department of Transportation press release pointed to a sharp decline in Highway Trust Fund revenue for fiscal 2008 due to Americans driving far fewer miles than the prior year. The economic downturn – and rising gasoline prices – kept many drivers off the road, or at least closer to home.
Combined, the funding allocated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, along with the Highway Trust Fund transfers should keep roadway construction projects on track at least through September, which marks the end of the current fiscal year.
However, many highway improvement project benefits – including increased employment opportunities and other economic advantages – may not be realized until later in the year, if not next year altogether, particularly since construction projects in many states are stalled in the winter months.
America’s Infrastructure in Dire Need of Repairs
March 2009 MuniNetGuide.com article entitled, “America’s Infrastructure: On the Brink of Failing Grades,” reports on the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2009 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure – and the news isnt’ good. The ASCE gave the nation’s bridges, transit, water, road and other public infrastructure systems all a “C” or lower – with many earning a “D” or “D-” (including roads).