The recent signing of the federal transportation bill was historic…historic in that it was the fist major surface transportation law approved by Congress since 2005, and historic in that it offers some hope for an ever-growing backlog of delayed maintenance projects and an increasing need for new infrastructure.
The $100 million bill was the first long-term legislation in seven years. Although Congress has approved nine short-term extensions of the provisions of the bill since it expired in 2009, this new two-year bill ensures that highway, transit and safety programs will continue current level funding through FY 2014. With that assurance in place, government entities at all levels can make long-range transportation infrastructure plans.
While the new bill provides some relief along with guaranteed funding, more funding was needed. There are more than 4 million miles of roads in the United States and the country spends more money repairing and maintaining current roads and bridges than it does on new construction.
Passage of the bill was heralded in Los Angeles, where officials plan to use the new funding to assist with dozens of regional projects. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to apply for $2 billion in grants for its subway extension to the Westside and a downtown light rail line to connect existing rail lines. Metro also will be seeking approximately $2.3 billion in low-cost loans for highway improvements over the next decade.
Officials in Illinois say the bill will provide $4.1 billion dollars for the state’s highways and $1.5 billion for Illinois public transit over the next three years.
Approximately 11,000 construction jobs are expected in Massachusetts as a result of the federal bill. Over the next two years, the state will receive $1.2 billion for road and bridge work and another $345 million for public transportation. Nearly 40 other road and bridge projects also are expected to be funded.
Continued development of the Interstate 69 project in Texas will also benefit from the funding in the bill. The planned I-69 project will help route cargo and passenger traffic from the Rio Grande border with Mexico northward to major Texas seaports and beyond. The state also plans to leverage its resources with these federal funds to complete other projects.
The bill provides additional funding for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan program, which New York officials hope they can tap for a low-interest loan to help finance a $5 billion project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge.
In Pennsylvania, officials say they are hopeful passage of the bill will allow them to secure the additional $35 million needed to finish Route 219 from Somerset to Meyersdale.
New Hampshire officials recently secured state bonding for a widening project of Interstate 93 from the Massachusetts border to Windham, along with the addition of several interchanges. Passage of the transportation bill now ensures federal funds will be available to help pay back the $115 million in bond funds.
The good news is that public officials have spending authority up to $100 billion. The bad news is that billions more are needed. The Federal Highway Administration says that government should be investing $139 billion each year in highway improvements just to maintain the current conditions of roads and bridges. If construction costs grow at the same rate as the overall inflation rate, that figure could grow to $150 billion by 2015.
Passage of the federal transportation bill will result in a myriad of opportunities for public-private partnerships as state and local governments seek to leverage their existing transportation funds.