ROADS/BRIDGES: State DOTs hope for the best but plan for more of the same

Uncertainty surrounding a long-term federal transportation fund is causing state DOTs to remain conservative with current and future transportation projects. 

March 02, 2015

Growing congressional consensus on federal highway and transit funding does not guarantee that a new long-term bill will be introduced in time for the May 31 deadline.

To cope with the uncertainty many state departments of transportation (DOTs) are coming up with a Plan B that includes postponing highway contract bid lettings and delaying project starts.

While the alignment in Congress is encouraging, an agreement on how to handle federal transportation funding has not been reached. 

Appropriately, a new transportation bill was the main topic at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation's (AASHTO) annual winter meeting held last week. 

Leaders of state DOTs are strongly in favor of a well-funded five- to –six year transportation bill, as opposed to the 32 temporary funding measures over the past six years.

Long-term transportation funding would be ideal, but many remain skeptical about the reality of  passing such a bill.

Shailen Bhatt, Colorado DOT’s new executive director, says, “I am pretty optimistic we’re gong to get a short-term extension, because I just don’t see them working out all these issues by May 31st.”

“Maybe they’ll surprise us, but it’s just not the way D.C. has worked,” adds Bhatt, who formerly led Delaware DOT.

Still, many states including Arkansas and West Virginia are bracing themselves for the short-term funding measures they are used to by postponing major transportation projects.

Nevada DOT Director Rudy Malfabon advised the State Transportation Board about the “slate of projects that would be slowed down if we don’t see any relief on funding.” They include highway preservation projects on Interstate 80.

Malfabon also says, “The lack of long-term funding just means that we have to very hesitant to pull the trigger on larger projects.”

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