It has come back around again, one of our favorite issues here at Roads & Bridges Media.
It is always a pleasure to recognize the terrific work done by our industry. One of the reasons I think we, as a staff, enjoy it so much is that road builders tend to get pretty short shrift from the general public. Much of their efforts are seen as an extenuated inconvenience, and even when a road is rehabilitated or reconstructed—or even just given a fresh chip seal—and the ride improves and the corridor is open and ready for traffic, I’m not sure people even then actually appreciate what went into the effort. My impression is that they mostly have a “Finally!” sort of attitude.
I suppose before I took the job on this magazine I was probably one of them. While my sensitivity level has much improved in this regard these last few years, I am still baffled by the nagging sensation, which has been difficult to shake despite my best intentions, that things could move along much faster than they do. There are, however, pockets of hope in this regard.
One significant ray of light is the upcoming Federal Highway Administration’s annual “August redistribution,” which as of this writing is on its way to DOT coffers. The total amount this year of funds that will be obligated is $3.9 billion. While this figure is down from last year’s record $4.18 billion, the infusion is nonetheless more than welcome, and will hopefully spur a bold final lap for those projects deep into construction, as well as an imminent birth for those projects whose fate has been hampered by little more than lack of funding.
For those possibly unclear on the practice, the distribution is an annual budgeting action under which the FHWA shifts federal funding authority out of accounts that are not on course to use up their allotted “obligation limitation” for the year, redirecting it to where state recipients are ready to use it. Since DOTs make estimates of spending needs, actual needs for various program categories are not always entirely clear or accurate.
Thus, as summer comes on and actual spending patterns become more clear, agency officials redistribute unused obligation limitation from some underspending categories so that state DOTs can apply it in the few remaining weeks of the fiscal year to other projects.
In going through the decision-making process for this year’s Top 10 Roads winners, myself and my associate editor had to make some tough choices. I was reminded of something Skip Powe, a professional engineer with the Alabama DOT, said to me earlier this year when I went down to Birmingham to visit the I-59/20 Interchange project. We were talking about this and that aspect of the project work, and he said, casually, “One of the strongest things we’ve got going for us is that we knew from the start where the money for this work was going to go,” by which I took him to mean not just that the overall project was the focus, but, more so, that all the smaller segments of the project planning—the pieces that comprise the pie—were mapped and prioritized fiscally in order to guarantee success.
Here’s to hoping this year’s redistribution goes a long way toward guaranteeing much success across our industry. Now, enjoy the issue. Our top road picks make one helluva good read.