Utah and Florida lead the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials's list—in terms of dollar value—of projects that are ready to start if funded in a federal economic stimulus plan, expected to be proposed in coming weeks.

Together the two states estimate they have $17.8 billion in road and bridge projects for which contracts could be awarded within 180 days of receiving stimulus aid. That amount represents 28% of the $64.3 billion in projects for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to AASHTO's tally, released Dec. 5.

It's unlikely the full $64.3 billion will be approved, however.

States around the country are in the position of cutting projects due to plummeting state tax revenue while at the same time they are also hoping they will get enough money in the stimulus to at least put those projects back on the ready-to-bid list. Right now, they can't pay for as much work as had been planned.

The Utah Dept. of Transportation remains cautious about next year's building program, despite its ranking at the top of all states in the dollar value of of projects that are ready-to-build. UDOT announced on Nov. 20 that it was halting $3.9 billion worth of construction projects, including $2.6 billion for the much-needed I-15 CORE project through Utah County, due to a shortfall in money from the state's general tax fund.

Jim McMinimee, UDOT's director of project development, says the agency is in limbo about making any future decision on its 2009 program until it knows exactly how much money it will be getting from the state as well as the federal government.

"We placed on hold those projects that were funded by state general fund money," says McMinimee. "Until the [Utah] legislature can make a decision to see what the state can afford. It was a very difficult decision, but a responsible decision."

It is anticipated that President-elect Barack Obama's plan to infuse states with federal money for infrastructure projects will give Utah a sizeable amount to use for transportation work. McMinimee acknowledges that Utah's wish-list is long.

"We have put in our list—we have a giant list of needs," he says. "We keep hearing the right things from our partners, though. We believe, as Obama and [Utah] Governor [Jon] Huntsman seems to believe, that keeping people busy through infrastructure work is a good strategy for economic stimulus."

Jim Wood, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, says he expects the federal government to throw Utah a significant chunk of money, considering Utah's wish-list is roughly $11 billion.

"I think the feds are going to provide a big-time fiscal stimulus package," says Wood. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Utah gets 1% of what is anticipated to be a $700-billion federal program—which would be $7 billion. We'll get a few billion dollars that will be come over the next two years."

McMinimee says UDOT officials remain optimistic that many of the projects they put on hold will be released eventually. In addition, he says UDOT does have projects under way. "Right now we have $2 billion of work under contract—about 170 projects," he says. "We feel good about the work we have; it's the most work we've ever had outstanding."

He adds, "We believe the earliest we will hear about the federal economic stimulus is the middle of March. They never go as fast as we would like."

Ranking second on the AASHTO survey is Florida. From the Panhandle to the Florida Keys, Floridians may see highway projects expedited and construction workers on the job if the stimulus package becomes a reality.

The Florida DOT has nearly $7 billion worth of projects that could start within 90 to 120 days, Gov. Charlie Crist told President-elect Obama in a letter dated Dec. 2. "This infusion of federal support could provide $39 billion in economic benefits and create an additional 195,000 jobs," Crist wrote.

Bob Burleson, president of the Florida Transportation Builders' Association in Tallahassee, says, "I think the proposed stimulus package for infrastructure will get the economy going more than anything else. We have a lot of work ready to go."

All of the projects are on the FDOT's work plan but need funding to advance. More than a third of the work is in Central Florida. The state would use $2.7 billion to widen Interstate 4 from State Road 435, near the attractions area to the Seminole County line. The state has divided the project into four design-build contacts, at $1.4 billion, $518 million, $554 million and $193 million, respectively.

The Florida list is full of new roads, such as a $79.6-million job in Polk County, an $86-million project in Lee County and a $125-million project in Duval County.

More than $336 million would go toward replacing and widening the Choctawhatchee Bay bridge in Walton County and $118 million to a new Indian Street Bridge in Martin County. About $227 million would fund additional lanes on Interstate 275 in Hillsborough County.

The money also would fund high-occupancy-vehicle lanes along Interstate 95 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which would cost $150 million and $62 million, respectively. Also in Miami, the state is looking for $577 million to reconstruct the State Road 826-State Road 836 interchange.

Securing the work may require contractors and engineering firms to team up quickly to bid on design-build projects. But Burleson does not expect that will be a problem, because many contractors and design firms have established relationships. "Everybody is anxious and ready to go," Burleson says. "We need it quick."

Joe Debs, senior vice president of Reynolds, Smith and Hills in Jacksonville, calls the package extremely welcome, and says his firm is ready to start. RS&H serves as the Interstate-595 corridor design consultant and the design engineer for the replacement for the historic Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine, which is slated to be completed in 2009.

"All of us have seen a sharp decline in activity during the last six months," says Debs, but the stimulus package would restart it. "By beginning construction, there is an economic return beyond the construction and design industries."

Gilberto Neves, CEO of Odebrecht Construction in Coral Gables, Fla., agrees. Odebrecht currently is working on the expansion of Miami International Airport and on levee reconstruction projects in New Orleans.

"We are greatly encouraged by indications that President-elect Obama's economic stimulus plan is focused on infrastructure investments since these have a clear multiplier effect on the economy," Neves says in an email. "Infrastructure investment not only brings short-term economic stimulus," he adds, "it leaves the country in a stronger position to face an increasingly competitive global economy. This is especially true of Florida which is greatly dependent on trade for its economic growth and job creation."