By Eric Jay Toll for The Arizona Builder’s Exchange
“It was a pleasant surprise, and we have to move pretty quickly,” says Tim Tait, ADOT Communication Relations Director. He’s talking about the more than $6.5M in previously earmarked, but unused, federal highway funds that the Obama administration has made available for shovel-ready projects in the state. The purpose of this reallocation, which nationally involves $470M in unspent funds, is to help put more people to work in construction and trades.
The money, totaling nearly $11M, was allocated between 2003 and 2006 for eight surface transportation projects in Arizona. The executive order from Washington now frees up a little over $6.5M – the amount of money the state has not already obligated to the earmarked projects – for use on any ground transportation project ready to build.
“We don’t even have a list (of projects where the money will be used) at this time,” explains Tait. “We just received this order, and are hustling to match the money to projects. The funds have to be obligated by October.” Although the state is picking among its unfunded and underfunded projects to allocate the money, no decisions have been reached as to which ones will receive it.
Between 2003 and 2006 Arizona congressional officials earmarked eight, mostly southern Arizona, projects. The largest earmark was $3.5M for the University of Arizona Science Center bridge across I-10 and the Santa Cruz wash. The project—which UofA estimated at a total of $350M—was never built, and the earmarked funds never made it into a contract.
Still under construction, border crossings in Nogales and San Luis and improvements to widen SR 86 in Sells have not received their federal grant money, but the state contracted, or “obligated” $4.4M to these earmarked projects. This money is not available to be used for other projects. This leaves $6.5M in funds that have not been used for any of the other five projects. The executive order says that money can now be redirected to new, ready-to-build projects.
Ray LaHood, transportation secretary, was able to release the money from the earmark obligations using special provisions in the transportation fund law. The money can be used for any project that is ready to start construction immediately as soon as it receives funding approval from ADOT.