The Alabama Department of Transportation is planning for the worst but hoping for the best as they wait for congress to find a solution to the shrinking Federal Highway Trust Fund. The fund helps states to pay for transportation projects and is expected to reach dangerous levels in August if congress doesn’t take action.
In Alabama, that means the state will have to foot the bill for construction of bridges and highways as well as for repairs and expansions. With not enough money, drivers could see delays in roadwork and in their commutes.
President Barack Obama announced a new program today to help fund transportation projects. The president said the new program will help public and private sectors come up with money for construction.
That won’t be enough.
At the beginning of the fiscal year, the Federal Highway Trust Fund had 11.3 billion dollars. Right now the trust fund has less than 6.5 billion dollars, almost a 5.4 billion decrease.
It sounds like a lot of money, but the fund still has to reimburse all 50 states for thousands of projects such as ALDOT’s project called 158 extension.
ALDOT has been waiting four years to continue work on a project called the 158 extension. It’s an unfinished highway meant to relieve congestion on highway 98, a road known for it’s high traffic deaths.
Currently the 158 extension is a four lane facility that has been a dead end for years.
Part of the problem is planning, the other part is funding. Engineers at ALDOT hope to have the plan approved by the beginning of next year, but without funding, they can’t go any farther.
The Federal Highway Trust Fund reimburses the state for 80 percent of qualifying projects such as the 158 extension. If, come August 1st, congress doesn’t act, the fund can only reimburse states for a smaller percent.
Tony Harris, the Bureau Chief of ALDOT in Montgomery says the state can only foot the bill for so long.
“Initially and at least for a short period of time, we can continue to manage our ongoing projects in the face of prorated funds,” Harris said.
If congress delays too long, though, the state will run out of transportation funding and cease dozens of construction projects.
“In the fall we may see it necessary to slow down or even stop awarding new projects if there’s not some corrective action in Washington,” Harris said.