State departments of transportation are getting $10 billion in long-awaited emergency aid from a $900 billion COVID-19 relief measure passed by Congress as part of a final year-end legislative package.
The House of Representatives passed the legislative package that included the COVID-19 rescue bill by a vote of 359 to 53, with the Senate passing it by a vote of 92 to 6. President Trump signed the measure on December 27, 2020.
“Since the early response to the pandemic, state DOTs have faced severe losses in state transportation revenues as vehicle travel declined. This COVID relief bill enables state DOTs to stay on track and support the efficient movement of critical goods and services as they maintain their transportation systems,” noted Jim Tymon, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).
“Furthermore, this timely federal support will help state DOTs to retain their institutional capacities and to be prepared to deliver future infrastructure investment driving economic recovery and growth,” he added.
According to analysis by AASHTO’s policy team, the $10 billion worth COVID-19 relief set aside for state DOTs must be apportioned by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) within 30 days of the bill’s enactment and will be based on each state’s share of obligation limitations within the recently extended Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
SURFACE TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE
AASHTO’s analysis indicated that the relief money can be used by state DOTs to fund projects that are eligible for Surface Transportation Block Grants (STBG.) Also administered by the FHA, the STBG program provides flexible funding to States for use on programs that preserve and improve the conditions and performance on any Federal-aid highway, bridge and tunnel project. STBG funds can also be used for transit capital projects, including intercity bus terminals.
HIGHWAY & BRIDGE INFRASTRUCTURE
In terms of the FY 2021 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development funding approved as part of this broad fiscal package, some $46.4 billion is provided for Federal-aid Highways obligation limitation along with nearly $2 billion in a general fund supplement to help support a highway bridge rehabilitation program based on 2018 National Bridge Inventory data.
The approval of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 within this broad legislative package includes key points for state DOTs as well, AASHTO said. It fully authorizes water infrastructure and navigation programs including for dredging needs of emerging harbors, donor and energy transfer ports, and commercial strategic ports. It also authorizes 46 water resources projects along with eight project modifications for previously authorized projects and allows for spending down of existing balances — amounting to roughly $10 billion in total — within the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
Finally, funds from the new relief package can be apportioned to costs for preventive maintenance, routine maintenance, operations, and personnel. Funds spent on maintenance and administrative expenses are not required to be included in either metropolitan or statewide long-range transportation improvement programs.