States are committing more American Recovery and Reinvestment Act highway funds to specific projects, and pavement improvements continue to get the largest share of those dollars. But the mix of ARRA-funded highway work is shifting a little, to more complex projects, the Government Accountability Office reports. Total federal ARRA highway outlays—reimbursements to states—also still lag well below obligations.

GAO’s latest ARRA update, released on Sept. 23, shows states had obligated nearly $18 billion of $26.7 billion in ARRA highway aid by Sept. 1. That is a 7% gain from $16.8 billion obligated by July 17.

The top ARRA highway category remains pavement improvement or widening, which received $11.7 billion, or 65% of total highway obligations. GAO notes many state transportation departments emphasized pavement projects because they could be bid rapidly and finished in three years. New road construction was allotted for $1.1 billion, or 6% of the total. Bridge replacement or new bridge construction funding was $1.2 billion, or 7%.

The overall pavement-project percentage is down slightly, from 66% as of July 17. GAO notes that it “found states are beginning to select projects entailing more complexity.” Massachusetts, it says, is starting to choose “more complicated construction and reconstruction projects,” such as a $36-million pedestrian bridge.

GAO notes that states’ use of ARRA highway aid varies widely. Ohio has obligated 37% of its ARRA highway funds for new road or bridge construction and Florida has earmarked 21% of its ARRA allocation to those categories, well above the 8% national average. Iowa and Massachusetts have focused much more heavily on pavement improvements, each obligating 85% of ARRA highway allocations for such projects.

Competition is driving down bid prices, GAO says. In Arizona, lower-than-anticipated bids saved $60 million. In Colorado, bids for 32 of 41 awarded ARRA projects were below engineers’ estimates, saving $39 million. As a result, the states say they will fund more projects.

Federal reimbursements to states are up sharply since June 25, but still are only $1.4 billion.

Selected states
($ millions)
Ariz. 522 293 18
Calif. 2,570 1,978 22
Colo. 404 290 16
D.C. 124 116 <1
Fla. 1,347 1,001 <1
Ga. 932 546 10
Ill. 936 736 200
Iowa 358 319 91
Mass. 438 203 5
Mich. 847 575 41
Miss. 355 289 21
N.J. 652 473 4
N.Y. 1,121 783 23
N.C. 736 453 38
Ohio 936 429 17
Pa. 1,026 875 51
Texas 2,250 1,195 47
16 states/D.C. subtotal 15,551 10,554 604
U.S. total 26,660 17,964 1,437