AASHTO Journal, 11 March 2016
The Federal Highway Administration issued a key set of documents March 8 that instructs state departments of transportation on how to redirect about $2 billion in old, unused congressional earmark funds and that sets up a process for them to possibly tap into more.
State DOTs have been looking for the FHWA to free up that money ever since Congress included a provision in its fiscal 2016 omnibus appropriations bill in December to let states re-purpose earmarks that have gone unspent for at least a decade.
President Obama signed the bill into law Dec. 18, so the FHWA totaled up qualifying earmark levels as of that date.
The formal FHWA guidance activates that pool of money, provides instructions on how to tap into it and includes lists of earmark funds that qualify so states can begin incorporating their amounts into their project planning.
As previously reported, that $2 billion comes from earmarks for which state DOTs had obligated less than 10 percent of the original project funding, and in many cases never touched. The state agencies can now obligate the money to other projects within 50 miles of the ones Congress first earmarked.
Here is a state-by-state list prepared by AASHTO staff that reflects the minimum amount of money each state and territory can draw on in re-purposed earmarks.
Another portion of the money now available for re-purposing will come from residual funds that were left after a DOT completed the original earmarked project at a lower cost than Congress provided. Until now the DOTs could not reallocate that leftover money elsewhere, but now states may be able to use that money on qualifying projects anywhere in their borders.
In all cases, the state agencies must let their FHWA division offices know later this year how they intend to use the money, and must obligate all their re-purposed earmark funds no later than Sept. 30, 2019.