Is the Florida Dept. of Transportation lagging in its spending of stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act? Congressman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, sure seems to think so.
The congressman called out Gov. Charlie Crist and the state of Florida for just that, citing Florida's last-place ranking in a recent analysis of the percentage of ARRA highway formula funds put out to bid, under contract and under way. According to this ranking, Florida placed 51st on the list (behind all other states and Washington, D.C.) with just 2% of its stimulus funds under construction.
In a statement addressed to Gov. Crist, Congressman Oberstar remarked: "Based on the state progress reports submitted to the committee in July 2009, Florida is falling far behind other states in putting to work its Recovery Act highway formula funds.... I strongly urge you to refocus your efforts to implement the Recovery Act and use the available funds to create and sustain family-wage jobs."
Well, that got a response from Florida, signed by FDOT Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos and Don Winstead, special advisor to the governor.
"Quite frankly, we were dismayed to read in your letter that Florida 'ranks last among all states,'" Florida's response read. "With all due respect, we firmly believe that that analysis and finding is outdated and does a disservice to the tireless efforts of the Crist administration and the employees of the Florida Dept. of Transportation."
Florida cited four factors that caused the low ranking. 1) The choice of some states to supplant existing funds; 2) Different accountability processes; 3) Varying project timelines; and 4) The greater number of large urban areas in Florida, most of which have some control over ARRA funds.
Regarding the supplanting of funds, it's obvious that many states, including Maryland, which Oberstar cited in his statement as a leader, used stimulus dollars for projects that were already funded through their normal system. Nothing wrong or illegal about that. And some states needed to do that, due to the poor conditions of their road funds. Florida chose not to do that, though.
Florida's most compelling argument came within its explanation of the impact of varying project timelines. Essentially, here Florida argues that it opted to go with capacity projects over resurfacing contracts, the latter of which are often faster and easier to expedite--and which have dominated ARRA funding to date, according to this story from ENR.com. An excerpt explaining Florida's rationale for this approach follows:
"Florida is funding a higher number of capacity projects with Recovery Act funds for several reasons. Most importantly, we selected projects with the greatest economic impact.... We often selected capacity projects over resurfacing projects because they met this important objective.... By law, Florida prioritizes preservation over capacity, which means our roads are already in good shape. It also means, in general, our most pressing need is for new capacity.... Florida has the third-highest percentage of roads rated in 'good' condition and the second-fewest 'poor' roads, according to FHWA criteria. As a result, when new funds (i.e., Recovery Act funds) become available, our list of priorities is largely made up of capacity projects. We could have easily swapped the funds we already had in place for these preservation efforts to use the ARRA funds, but that work was already going to happen. Instead, we recognized that job creation and growth is what Congress was intending and implemented our plan accordingly."
Southeast Construction will keep reporting on this developing story, and other stimulus news as we have all year. In the meantime, feel free to chime in with your opinion. As always, we love to hear from our readers.