Utah DOT's Njord seeks end to stopgap funding "Band-Aids"

Forced to cope with getting federal highway aid piecemeal over the past year because Congress hasn’t passed a new authorization bill, state transportation agency chiefs are trying to put more pressure on Capitol Hill.

“It’s time to stop putting Band-Aids on this. It’s time to fix the problem and put us back on track,” says John Njord, Utah DOT executive director. Adds J. Bryan Nicol, Indiana DOT commissioner: “We’ve waited a year. It’s been long enough.”

Reauthorization was Topic A for Njord and other members of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, who gathered in Philadelphia Sept. 16-21 for their annual meeting. AASHTO’s board approved a resolution stating that if Congress finds another stopgap “absolutely necessary,” it should be for six months and contain an increase over 2004 funding. If the extension lasts 12 months, the 2005 budget could crimp the amount of transportation aid, AASHTO fears.

Indiana DOT's Nicol says long-term bill delayed long enough

The delay already has had an impact on work in some states. Last winter, North Dakota’s DOT “ended up pulling back several [highway] projects late in the bidding season,” says Director David Sprynczynatyk. Total potential contract volume: about $17 million.

There are cutbacks in projects’ early stages, too. Mary Peters, head of the Federal Highway Administration, told ENR, “I think that what we’re seeing now is the pipeline dry up.” Adds Susan Mortel, Michigan DOT’s planning director: “There isn’t a state DOT in the United States right now that has the certainty to be able to plan long term.”

The picture isn’t uniform around the country. Florida and Texas have been able to hold their own by drawing on state funds to keep their highway programs going.

Bonding authority has helped cushion the blow in states such as Nevada. But if Congress passes extension into the summer or fall, says DOT Deputy Director Susan Martinovich, “We’ll really have to take a look at which projects we are going to just not advertise.”

In Louisiana, “We kept pace with most things up until recently,” says Johnny Bradberry secretary of the Dept. of Transportation and Development. No lettings have been canceled so far, “but we are rethinking future lettings. If nothing happens by January, we’re really going to be hurting.”

“There’s still hope,” for a six-year bill, by the time Congress recesses in October, says North Dakota’s Sprynczynatyk. “And maybe by some minor miracle something could happen in the next few weeks.”

(Photo top courtesy of Utah DOT, bottom courtesy of Indiana DOT)