The Mid-Atlantic�s cash-strapped transportation departments continue to make the most of every dollar received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
�It�s been a welcome bridge in these economic times,� says Malcolm T. Kerley, chief engineer for the Virginia Dept. of Transportation, which has reduced its six-year project plan by more than $4 billion over the last few years. �The stimulus has helped create some jobs and probably allowed more than a few contractors to stay in business.�
Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation Allen Biehler agrees, calling his state�s $1.026-billion ARRA allotment �a godsend in terms of how it has helped us tackle a horrendous backlog of work, particularly with our large inventory of structurally deficient bridges.� Pennsylvania currently ranks second among all states in the progress of implementing stimulus funds.
Almost as soon as President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion measure in February 2009, ARRA made an immediate splash on so-called �shovel-ready� projects large and small, from resurfacing and school safety and access improvements along Maryland Route 650 in Montgomery County�the first stimulus project started in the nation�to the BRAC-related $50-million completion of the Fairfax County Parkway in northern Virginia.
Along the way, the Mid-Atlantic�s still-sluggish overall construction market has helped each state boost its stimulus spending power.
�Bids have averaged 15 to 20% below the engineers� estimates, with far more bidders than normal on smaller jobs,� says Delaware Dept. of Transportation Chief Engineer Natalie Barnhart. �As stimulus projects get done, we�ll identify others that can be funded by the savings.�
Good bids also enabled Pennsylvania to expand its original ARRA project roster from 242 to 326, while Virginia was able to expand upon its initial plans for paving work.
�Because we received so many good bids, we were able to de-obligate $57 million for additional paving projects,� Kerley says. The state now expects to spend more than $101 million to upgrade deficient and functionally obsolete bridges and culverts, and $142.5 million on paving and overlay projects.
Such �bonus� projects will augment what is already shaping up as a big year for stimulus spending.
In Maryland, where the stimulus has countered approximately 30% of the reductions made to the Maryland Dept. of Transportation�s capital budget, the notice to proceed has been issued on 184 highway and transit projects totaling $445 million, representing 82% of the road contract value and 69% of the transit contract value.
�There is still more work to be done,� says MDOT spokesperson Erin Henson.
Current projects include the first 1.4-mi segment of the 11-mi State Route 404 widening project on the Eastern Shore; a 6-mi patching and resurfacing project along State Route 236 in St. Mary�s County, a route used by both motorists and Amish community members; upgrades to five rail stations along the MARC commuter train and Baltimore Metro subway networks; and a host of county- and neighborhood-level street improvements.
Maryland also is benefiting from 36 Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority stimulus-funded contracts totaling $72 million.
DelDOT will apply approximately $40 million�one-third of its total ARRA allocation�to reconstruct and reconfigure the Newark Toll Plaza on Interstate 95 with highway-speed E-ZPass lanes this year, relieving a long-standing traffic bottleneck. Delaware�s second-largest stimulus project�$11 million to fund streetscape improvements and eliminate long-standing flooding problems on Market Street in Wilmington�is also set to begin this summer.
In Pennsylvania, work is under way on the $70-million Interstate 95/Girard Point Bridge Rehabilitation, aimed at extending the life, aesthetics and ride quality of the double-deck, 18-span steel truss bridge. Stimulus funds make up more than half of the funding for the $20.2-million Gustine Lake Interchange Improvement project in Philadelphia and the $10-million rehabilitation of the U.S. Route 1/Roosevelt Expressway bridges over the Schuylkill River. Both projects began earlier this year.
A significant portion of Virginia�s $695 million in stimulus funds will be put to work this year as well, with nearly $50 million going to the Fairfax County Parkway/Fair Lakes Parkway Interchange and $10 million applied to the Route 50/Courthouse Road Interchange in the D.C. suburbs.
The $35-million improvement program for Princess Anne Boulevard in Virginia Beach will receive $25.3 million in ARRA money, while improvement efforts along U.S. Route 221 and U.S. Route 58 in the state�s southwestern region will receive $29 million and $25 million, respectively.
Making stimulus funds last as long as possible has been integral to every state�s planning strategy, particularly since the nascent economic recovery has yet to have much positive effect on state gas tax, toll and registration fee revenue.
�The stimulus was intended to be a shot in the arm, not a flash in the pan,� Biehler says, noting that it will be 2011 before the last of PennDOT�s ARRA-funded projects winds down. �We�ll be getting a good 2.5 years out of the program.�
By then, the Mid-Atlantic�s transportation agencies hope to be benefiting from a new federal surface transportation measure and a stepped-up economy.
�As we move forward with the next long-term reauthorization bill, we need to see more money for transportation and the streamlining of federal programs,� Henson says. �States simply cannot do the job without an adequate level of federal assistance.�
But there are still many questions that need to be answered before a reauthorization bill is approved. The current federal gas tax�the mainstay funding mechanism�can no longer be counted on as a steady source of Highway Trust Fund revenue, given the increasing popularity of fuel-efficient vehicles and competition for funding from transit systems.
�It�s a difficult question and one that won�t be easy to resolve,� Barnhart says, adding that DelDOT is trying to federalize more of its projects to take advantage of the 80/20 funding split. �That can help us, but not when federal source is uncertain.�
States also have their own budget woes to contend with. Pennsylvania saw hundreds of millions of dollars in potential transportation dollars disappear in early April when the Federal Highway Administration rejected the state�s plan to implement tolls on Interstate 80.
�That was a big hit,� Biehler says. �Even though we had anticipated toll revenue to increase over the next 40 or more years, it still wouldn�t have been enough for us to get our system in the shape we want.�