FHWA's Window Into Recovery
For much of 2008, the U.S. economy seemed a continuous source of bad news. In January 2009, President Barack Obama called for Federal intervention in the banking industry and a spending bill to jumpstart the economy. On February 17, he signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which provided $27.5 billion to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to spend on construction projects and other programs that would put people to work.
President Obama also made it clear that he expects unparalleled transparency to surround the recovery effort so the public can see where its tax money is going. To meet that mandate, FHWA is providing access to information on its role and activities through its Web site at www.fhwa.dot.gov/economicrecovery. Site visitors can learn how FHWA is apportioning funds, the conditions placed on funding, and how projects are progressing.
Recovering Roads, Recovering Jobs
Including FHWA's share, ARRA provides a total $150 billion to support U.S. infrastructure — "the largest new investment since the construction of the interstate highway system," according to the White House. The spending is intended to "create nearly 400,000 jobs for American workers today and power enhanced economic growth for the decades to come."
Citing a report that the Nation's infrastructure deserved a "D" for its deteriorating condition, the White House said ARRA meets the challenge by ensuring that all States receive funding, localities are able to use funds for the projects they need most, and rural areas can address a backlog of infrastructure projects.
Visitors to the Web site will learn that the bulk of the agency's ARRA funding was available for obligation through September 30, 2010 (for fiscal years, FYs, 2009 and 2010). Of FHWA's $27.5 billion, ARRA set aside $840 million for non-State programs, which includes $550 million for investments on Indian reservations and Federal lands.
The Web site explains that FHWA apportioned the $26.6 billion in State funding using two formulas. Half the funding will be disbursed according to the Surface Transportation Program FY 2009 formula: 25 percent is based on each State's share of the total lane miles of Federal-aid highways, 40 percent is based on each State's share of the total vehicle miles traveled on Federal-aid highways, and 35 percent is based on each State's share of the estimated tax payments attributable to highway users paid into the Highway Trust Fund. FHWA will disburse the other half of ARRA funding based on the FY 2008 distribution of obligation limitation.
The Web site further explains that FHWA selected projects based on several criteria. First, it gives priority to projects that can be completed by February 17, 2012. Second, it favors projects in economically distressed areas. Third, it favors projects that can be started and completed quickly, including a goal of obligating at least 50 percent of funds by June 17, 2009. Finally, the agency prefers projects that maximize job creation and economic benefits.
Meeting Unparalleled Transparency Standards
FHWA has made delivery of the ARRA funding a top priority and uses its ARRA Web site to communicate activities and progress efficiently. The site contains comprehensive information on the agency's Recovery Act efforts, including funding distributions and requirements, answers to frequently asked questions, presentations and guidance materials, and training. FHWA continually adds new information to the site and updates progress daily.
Site visitors can access a number of resources to help with meeting implementation requirements, including reporting forms. An ARRA calendar of events also assists those responsible for providing data to FHWA by noting deadlines for required reporting.
FHWA's Web site also links to www.recovery.gov, the site run by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which oversees all aspects of ARRA. Through this portal, site visitors can access weekly updates on progress made by FHWA and the other agencies involved. As of September 3, 2009, FHWA Division Offices had authorized 7,124 projects in all States and Territories, for a total of $18.16 billion. Federal Lands authorized 43 projects for a total of $141.1 million.
Tim Breen is a contributing editor for Public Roads.