Congressional foot-dragging on federal transportation policy reverberated again at the state level this week, as the Missouri Department of Transportation decided not to put projects out for bids, making March the second consecutive month the state canceled bids due to federal funding uncertainty.
The projects for which bidding was canceled in February and March would have cost about $130 million, according to a MoDOT release.
Last month, federal reimbursements to states halted after a bill extending reimbursements failed to pass in the Senate. Those reimbursements were reinstated within days after the program was extended, but it will expire again at the end of this month.
Legislation may be approved this week to extend the program through the end of this fiscal year. But the federal highway fund also has suffered from shortfalls as reimbursements to states eclipsed revenue and $8.7 billion of spending ability was rescinded last year.
“Because MoDOT’s federal funding stream for the remainder of this fiscal year is still uncertain, canceling the March bid opening is the most prudent decision we can make,” department director Pete Rahn said in a release. “MoDOT will not seek bids on future projects until the funding shortfall is corrected.”
Bills pending in Congress would provide about $20 billion to prevent shortfalls this year.
“We are taking this as federal funds are still very uncertain,” said Jorma Duran, a spokesman for MoDOT. “Honestly, the bidding that would happen in April and for May are in serious jeopardy as well.”
MoDOT also “more than likely” will not issue more grant anticipation revenue vehicles, or Garvee bonds, until a multi-year federal transportation bill is approved, Duran said. The last multi-year bill expired Sept. 30, 2009, and programs have been extended through short-term stopgap measures since then.
“We are going to scale down MoDOT operations over the next five years due to the funding uncertainties,” Duran said, adding that the department may resume new construction if a multi-year bill is approved in the next month or two.
The trade group that represents state transportation officials is pushing for a longer-term extension of federal highway aid to states.
“We're hoping that all of this will be moot soon,” said Joung Lee, associate director for finance and business development at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.