The $49.3 billion in federal stimulus funding set aside for transportation work generated none of the rancorous clamor raised by the banking and financial-sector bailout. Instead, politicians and officials in cash-strapped state highway departments are joining nervous contractors and engineers in nearly universal praise for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).
Any criticism has been muted. The public perceived the American International Group executive bonuses as tax dollars profiting those who were culpable for financial excesses and bad decisions. Not so for transportation spending: “These funds are vital to putting Coloradans back to work, getting our economy moving again and building a modern, 21st-century transportation system,” said Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr. (D).
In California, Caltrans Director Will Kempton was more succinct: “This is about jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Caltrans will snag $1.72 billion of $2.6 billion for work on highways, roads and bridges. The rest will go to local agencies and projects ranging from high-speed rail to bicycle lanes.
The emphasis is on speed. After the state Legislature unanimously passed legislation changing funding allocations to double regional grants, Caltrans accelerated the time line for going to bid with 57 shovel-ready projects. The moves will free up state dollars for work that otherwise would wait a year or more.
As in other states, the project lists are varied, with shovel-ready jobs given top priority. Kempton says the bid list for the next 120 days includes bridge and blacktop repair jobs that were previously scheduled for 2010 and beyond. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) estimates the work will create or retain 11,000 jobs.
That is typical of how DOTs are using ARRA funds, says Thomas W. Stoner, vice president of H. W. Lochner Inc., Clearwater, Fla. “These paint-it-black, mill-and-fill, shave-and-pave type of jobs may not be exciting, but you get people working,” he says. “We engineers may say it is not getting us working, but it is job creation.” Allocating ARRA funds to megaprojects that employ design-build or concessionaires would mean many disadvantaged business firms would likely not get a slice of the pie, he adds.
Texas Saddles Up
Texas’ slice of the transportation pie is almost as big as California’s, with $2.2 billion earmarked. The slice comes at a good time, says Thomas L. Johnson, executive vice president of Austin-based Associated General Contractors of Texas Highway, Heavy, Utilities & Industrial Branch. “We are desperate for the work.”
The Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the Texas Dept. of Transportation, last month allocated $1.2 billion of stimulus funds for 29 projects across the state. Pooling resources from other agencies will help boost funds for construction of new stimulus-related projects to $2.6 billion, the agency says.
NorthGate Constructors JV, a design-build team led by Kiewit Texas Construction LP, Fort Worth, and Zachry Construction Corp., San Antonio, captured the largest share of stimulus funds so far by winning a $250-million contract March 27 on the DFW Connector; the project includes building or improving roads near the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The state will kick in $667 million under a comprehensive development agreement. TxDOT says the DFW Connector project may double existing capacity and improve mobility on seven highways, six interchanges and 10 bridges. One highway will be widened to as many as 14 main lanes, with up to four toll-managed lanes and seven frontage lanes.
The commission approved spending $74 million on another 22 enhancement projects, most ARRA-funded. They will be ready by the March 2010 deadline specified in ARRA, says John Barton, TxDOT’s assistant executive director for engineering operations. Another 43 projects, estimated at $55 million, will require a longer lead time, he says.
Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada will get more than $1.1 billion of stimulus funds, and $400.4 million of work already has been funded. Arizona’s State Transportation Board last month green-lighted bids for 14 projects worth $85.7 million. The largest is a $43.2-million Interstate 10 widening in Maricopa County, says Timothy Tait, ADOT spokesman.
ARRA funds will help Valley Metro Rail wrap up its $1.4-billion, 19.6-mile light-rail system, which runs from Phoenix through Tempe and into Mesa, that opened in December. “We have received $36 million that will help fast-track project closeout,” says agency spokeswoman Hilary Foose. In 2005, the Federal Transit Administration signed a full-funding grant agreement to provide 42% of the $1.4-billion project to be paid out over six years. “The $36 million was received in advance of what we would be getting in future years,” notes Foose. “The cities of Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe as a result are being reimbursed earlier for their contributions.”
New Mexico is using stimulus funds for design work on projects that have been stalled, says Scott Perkins, vice president of Albuquerque-based Wilson & Co. Inc., Engineers & Architects.
Most of the $209.4 million in shovel-ready work in Nevada is pavement work, says Jacob Snow, Transportation Commission general manager. He hopes that if other states do not meet the 120-day deadline, southern Nevada may get the forfeited funds.
Colorado is putting $103 million of its ARRA funds into transit. Nearly $30 million is targeted for work at four state airports. Denver International will get the biggest piece, almost $12 million, for runway and apron rehabilitation. ARRA funds will give a boost to Denver’s massive FasTracks $6.9-billion expansion program. Spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas says the Regional Transportation District anticipates $72 million. “RTD will be allocating 60% to projects in our base system and 40% to FasTracks projects,” she says.
The money comes none too soon. RTD asked consultants working on FasTracks to forfeit at least 3% of their 2009 contract awards to help the agency close a $23-million budget shortfall this year with the $1.7-million savings. RTD also froze new salaried employee hiring and cut merit raises for existing staff.
While Idaho will not know exactly how its $100-million stimulus share will be spent until the Legislature adjourns in mid-April, Utah’s Transportation Commission wasted no time, approving $215 million in February. The Utah Legislature passed a $2.2-billion bond measure in mid-March. Most will go toward the Interstate 15 reconstruction in Utah County. The proactive approach “will help a lot of companies,” says Rich Thorn, president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Utah.
Busy Beehive State
On Utah’s transit side, most of the money will go toward operations, not construction. According to spokeswoman Carrie Bohnsack-Ware, the Utah Transit Authority received $48.4 million. UTA will use $6 million to purchase express bus service, $15 million for preventative maintenance of rolling stock and $30 million on expanding a light-rail shop. Even though it is not construction, jobs will be created. “We will be hiring 500 to 550 new people with this stimulus money. And we are still hunting down discretionary money through our federal delegation,” she adds. “We are building $2.8 billion—70 miles of light-rail track, 20 miles of which are federally funded.”
Stimulus funding is a boon to owners in the Northwest, says Denise Cieri, a Washington DOT program director. A job to add a lane to a state road was put on hold last year because of budget squeezes. Anticipating stimulus funding, the state put the project on the street again this year and saw bids drop 17.6%, Cieri says.
A Buyer’s Market
Beaverton, Ore., road contractor Baker Rock Resources sharpened pencils to bid a seven-mile pavement job. “We talked to our subs and figured out that we would be putting 70 people back to work with this project,” says Keith Peal, Baker Rock spokesman. “The taxpayers are getting a great deal because we bid it with almost no margins.”
In the Midwest, Missouri was one of the first ready-to-go states, starting four projects on the day President Obama signed ARRA into law. Missouri DOT says more than 200 other projects are shovel-ready. Illinois also is moving rapidly, letting almost $700 million of projects in April, with work expected to start in May or June.
New York puts out to bid, this money isn’t really going to go very far.”
States in the South Central region also were ready to go: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee all had shovel-ready wish lists that well exceeded their allocated amount. “We identified over 255 projects at $1.2 billion, and the total coming to Alabama for transportation infrastructure is $513.6 million,” says Tony Harris, Alabama DOT’s governmental relations manager and special assistant to the transportation director.
Arkansas will receive $350 million in stimulus funds, an amount that approaches its normal annual expenditure, says Glenn Bolick, Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Dept. spokesman. “Essentially, what we are looking at with this stimulus money is, we are going to be able to do three years worth of work in the next two years,” he says. Bolick predicts the work, weighted toward repaving projects, will “certainly have a trickle-down effect on concrete and asphalt suppliers, people who rent safety equipment, and everybody who deals in construction.”
In the Northeast, “the most immediate impact we are going to see will be with highway and bridge [projects], followed by mass transit,” says Robert Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction, of which ENR is a part. “These types of projects would definitely have been settling back in this climate, but instead we are seeing an increase that will help cushion the effects of this recession.”
New York state has set aside about $1.1 billion for road and bridge projects and $1.2 billion for mass transit. Gov. David Paterson (D) says about $41 million will be used for the first batch of jobs, most likely highway upgrades in upstate counties. Transit funds will mostly be directed to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s megaprojects in New York City, including the new Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access tunnels. “If you look at the size of the projects New York typically puts out to bid, this money is not really going to go very far,” says Denise Richardson, executive director of the General Contractors Association of New York. “But it allows us to continue at a level that we would not have otherwise been able to.”
New Jersey received nearly $1 billion for transportation projects, including about $130 million toward an $8-billion second Trans-Hudson rail tunnel for commuters into Manhattan. The state is distributing a total of $425 million for transit and about $650 million for highway and bridge work. According to officials in both states, the stimulus will create or retain nearly 30,000 construction jobs.
Town and Country
Connecticut is using $200 million for road and bridge projects, including a $73- million reconstruction of a rail bridge on Route 1 in Branford, more than $70 million for improvement projects on the Merritt Parkway in Trumbull and Fairfield, and $18.8 million for resurfacing jobs statewide.
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s (R) office says the state has more than $1 billion of shovel-ready projects. Rell is still working with municipalities to decide where to direct the stimulus dollars. “We cannot look at these projects in a parochial fashion,” says Rell spokesman Adam Liegot. “This will be a comprehensive strategy to reinvigorate our communities and our state.”
Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina received more than $3.5 billion of infrastructure stimulus funds, and their DOTs are moving rapidly to deliver projects. In many cases, the funding is slowing market decline. In North Carolina, the value of road lettings decreased to just 25% of last year’s level. But now, “we are beginning to be a bit more optimistic,” says Berry Jenkins, North Carolina Heavy-Highway Division director for Carolinas Associated General Contractors, Raleigh.
The state received $838 million of ARRA funds: $735 million for highways and bridges and $103 million for aviation, bicycle, pedestrian, ferry, public-transit and rail projects. The North Carolina DOT says that about 70 highway and bridge projects, funded with $466 million from ARRA, will be let by June.
Florida will be the big infrastructure stimulus winner in the Southeast. The Florida Dept. of Transportation is feeling the pinch from declining revenue streams and the state’s overall budget woes, says Kevin Thiebault, FDOT assistant secretary for engineering and operations.
Of $1.4 billion in ARRA funding, an estimated $1.35 billion will go for highway and bridge construction. Urban transit will receive $290 million, while rural transit systems will get about $20 million. Another $5.4 million is directed to fixed-guideway systems and $50 million to airports.
FDOT uses seven factors to prioritize projects: previously deferred; projects tied to concurrency where development is being held up; potential to generate revenue; geographical balance; potential for congestion relief; location in an economically distressed area; and completion in three years.
The Georgia DOT is receiving roughly $932 million in stimulus funds. The State Transportation Board directed about half be used for highway resurfacing and Interstate rehabilitation, a quarter for congestion-relief or new-capacity projects, and the rest for bridge replacement and rehabilitation, safety projects and enhancements. GDOT expects to award $512 million worth of projects by June.
South Carolina’s DOT has allocated $150 million of its $463 million for local projects. Of that amount, $106 million will be divided among six congressional districts. The state has approved nearly $300 million for highway resurfacing, maintenance, rehabilitation and traffic improvements.
In the Mid-Atlantic region, Pennsylvania is dedicating nearly $350 million of ARRA funds to 103 bridge projects, including $66 million for the preservation of Girard Point Bridge on Interstate 95 in Philadelphia. Although Delaware is the region’s smallest state, it is targeting one of the largest stimulus-funded projects in the region. Of $200 million, $48 million will add high-speed toll lanes to the I-95 toll plaza. Another $70 million will fund paving and rehabilitation.
On March 4, two days after federal funds became available, Maryland awarded a $2.1-million road-improvement project in Montgomery County to American Infrastructure, Fallston, Md. But in neighboring Virginia, politics slowed progress in distributing the state’s $694 million of stimulus funds. More than $300 million in work is yet to be finalized.
The state began advertising its first wave of projects in the second week of April. Initial projects include $110 million for 18 resurfacing projects around the state. To help speed the process, the state packaged 119 small-bridge and culvert- rehab projects into seven design-build contracts, says Pierce Homer, Virginia secretary of transportation.
Even ARRA’s biggest beneficiaries see it as only a first step. It’s a good start, says Jim Andoga, president of Irving, Texas-based contractor Austin Bridge & Road, “but the key to sustaining the industry rests in the reauthorization of the federal highway bill by Congress this fall.”