Beating its congressionally imposed deadline, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation has released the $27.5 billion provided for highway projects in the recently enacted economic-stimulus package. The release of the funds, announced March 3 by President Obama, followed the Federal Highway Administration's formal apportionment the day before of $26.7 billion of that total among the states.

Photo: Courtesy of the White House
President Obama, flanked by Vice President Biden (l) and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, at U.S. DOT headquarters Mar. 3.

In making the announcement at DOT's headquarters, Obama said, "I can say that 14 days after I signed our recovery act into law, we are seeing shovels hit the ground." Obama said the first highway stimulus contract was awarded to American Infrastructure, Worcester, Pa., to grind, patch and resurface a 1.1-mile section of Route 650 in Silver Spring, Md. The contract value is about $2.1 million, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration.

There may be debate about which project actually was the first in the U.S. to get under way: Missouri DOT began a bridge project on Feb. 17, the day Obama signed the stimulus, about two weeks before FHWA apportioned the money. Typically, state DOTs first obligate their own funds for federal-aid highway work and then seek reimbursement from FHWA.

DOT said that state transportation departments have identified more than 100 projects on which construction can begin within 30 days. FHWA must approve each project proposed to receive stimulus money. Governors are required to certify that the stimulus funds will be a net increase over state's existing programs and won't just act as a substitute for state funds. Under the legislation, federal funds can cover up to 100% of a project's cost.

DOT released the funds eight days before the stimulus legislation's deadline for apportioning the money. The legislation, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, required DOT to apportion the highway funds within 21 days of the measure's Feb. 17 enactment.

Besides the $26.7 billion apportioned to the states, the stimulus also provides $550 million for highway projects in national parks and other federal lands, as well as on Indian reservations. In addition, $140 million is set aside for job training, bonding aid for disadvantaged businesses, FHWA project oversight and for ferry boats and ferry terminals.

For more information about U.S. DOT's activities under the stimulus package, see