WASHINGTON, D.C.—After weeks of debate and backroom negotiating leading up to passage of House and Senate versions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a rapid conference committee compromise yielded a $787 billion stimulus bill that President Obama signed on Feb. 17. Transportation and infrastructure are big beneficiaries of the spending measure, with a focus on projects that can be funded within 120 days.
"This bill provides $64.1 billion for Transportation and Infrastructure Committee infrastructure investments," said Representative James Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. "This funding will create or sustain 1.8 million jobs and generate $322 billion of economic activity. It will get construction workers off the bench and back on the job."
According to summaries of the bill provided by the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), the following amounts will be spent:
- $27.5 billion for bridges and roads, with at least half obligated by states within 120 days;
- $8.4 billion for public transit and rail, including new construction, modernizing existing systems, and improving intermodal and transit facilities;
- $8 billion for high-speed rail;
- $1.4 billion for Amtrak capital investments;
- $1.5 billion for a new program to fund large transportation projects—bridges, roads, rail, tunnels, or ports—costing between $20 million and $300 million;
- $1.3 billion for the Airport Improvement Program;
- $200 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Economic Development Administration for dam rehabilitation;
- $4.6 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to improve water resources infrastructure;
- $4 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund;
- $2 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund;
- $900 million for Superfund and Brownfields cleanup;
- $1.28 billion to support $3.8 billion in loans and grants for water and waste disposal facilities in rural areas;
- $1 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation to provide clean, reliable drinking water in rural areas;
- $3 billion for the National Science Foundation for basic research in science and engineering;
- $4.5 billion to modernize the nation’s electric grid; and
- $2.1 billion for construction, restoration, and maintenance of park bridges, roads, trails, and facilities, including watershed restoration.
In addition, the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) said that the bill delays a mandate requiring 3-percent withholding on government services contracts. Beneficial tax provisions in the bill include accelerated business depreciation schedules, small firm expensing benefits, and extension of the net operating loss carry back from two years to five years for small firms, ACEC said.
In an effort to ensure that the large amounts of federal funds are spent as intended, state and local governments must submit 90-day, 180-day, one-year, two-year, and three-year reports on how funds are used, the number of contracts awarded and completed, and the jobs created or sustained by projects, ARTBA said. A new Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board will provide oversight, and a new website — www.recovery.gov—is expected to provide transparency by posting information about spending.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) also established a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) team to coordinate the department’s role in the economic recovery program. According to the DOT, the team includes officials from across the agency’s operating administrations and offices and will ensure that economic recovery funding is rapidly made available for transportation infrastructure projects and that project spending is monitored and transparent.
The TIGER team will identify and prioritize highway, bridge, transit, rail, aviation, and intermodal spending, as well as develop reporting standards to track the money as it is being spent and ensure that all accountability requirements are met. The DOT’s chief economist and Performance Management Office will coordinate with the Office of Management and Budget and other White House offices on the performance measures that will be used to track job creation and other indications of the impact of each infrastructure investment.
"We will insist that projects under this bill be new projects, not simply replacements for projects which states were planning to carry out under existing programs," said Oberstar. "We will insist that federal agencies expedite the process of approving projects and awarding grants. With aggressive action by federal agencies and grant recipients, the infrastructure funds provided by this bill can produce a substantial number of jobs by June, while also improving our deteriorating infrastructure and laying the foundation for our future economic growth."