State and local transportation officials as well as firms that design and build roads and subway projects now have a bit more market stability, thanks to a newly enacted measure that extends federal highway and transit programs through Sept. 30, the last day of the 2011 fiscal year.

The bill, which President Obama signed on March 4, freezes funding at fiscal 2010 levels for about seven months. The new measure’s highway obligation limit will be about $24 billion, or roughly 7/12ths of 2010’s full-year obligation ceiling of $41.1 billion.

The legislation is the latest—and the second-longest—of seven extensions since Sept. 30, 2009, when the last multiyear measure, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU, expired.

Final congressional approval of the latest stopgap came on March 3, when the Senate passed it on a voice vote. The House had approved the measure one day earlier by a strong 421-4 vote.

Construction and state transportation officials would have strongly preferred to see Congress approve new multiyear bill, like 2005’s SAFETEA-LU, but they were pleased the latest extension provides more funding predictability than did previous, shorter stopgaps.

John Horsley, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ executive director, told ENR, “Seven months of certainty is crucial for delivering dollars through projects.”

Randall D. Peters, the Nebraska Dept. of Roads’ deputy director for engineering, says an extension through Sept. 30 “gives you some predictability through a federal program year and fixes our target in terms of what is our challenge for obligating that money this year.”

West Virginia Transpportation Secretary Paul A. Mattox Jr. says the seven-month authorization “will allow us to pretty much stay business-as-usual.”

Wyoming DOT Director John F. Cox says the seven-month extension “means a tremendous amount to us.” Short stopgap continuing resolutions “really take us out of the game as far as being able to plan, and our construction season is on us,” Cox says. Wyoming has many bid lettings early in the calendar year, he says, “and then the construction season really hits full speed here—within about the next 30 days for us—and then it’s over in October.”

AASHTO’s Horsley says the new extension also gives the House and Senate a “window of certainty” to allow lawmakers to “focus on drafting the legislation to fund the program long-term.”

Seven Stopgaps Since SAFETEA-LU
Date Enacted Expiration
SAFETEA-LU Aug. 10, 2005 Sept. 30, 2009
Oct. 1, 2009 Oct. 31, 2009
Oct. 30, 2009 Dec. 18, 2009
Dec. 19, 2009 Feb. 28, 2010
March 2, 2010 March 28, 2010
March 18, 2010 Dec. 31, 2010
Dec. 22, 2010 March 4, 2011
March 4, 2011 Sept. 30, 2011
Source: House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee