Department of Transportation spending, under the 2009 economic stimulus law, reached $22.65 billion as of Nov. 11, and federal officials are working with a number of states to push remaining funds along quickly.
That money represents amounts paid out to reimburse states for work already done, mostly highway and bridge repairs or new construction since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act began backing infrastructure projects about 19 months ago. The DOT’s payout level rose by more than $1 billion in the latest three weeks.
In all, $40.65 billion has been made available for states to use, out of a total of $48.1 billion the department could deploy under the stimulus. Most of the remaining money is in the $8 billion intercity passenger rail program, awaiting formal implementing agreements, and a $1.5 billion discretionary grant account that the DOT is spreading among various freight rail, highway, transit and port projects.
The stimulus program remains controversial for failing to bring the U.S. unemployment rate below its recent 9.6 percent level, but President Obama and Vice President Biden planned to celebrate its role in reviving manufacturing in Kokomo, Ind., on Nov. 23.
The White House said an $89 million Recovery Act grant helped open a new hybrid vehicle component plant there, while other stimulus funds supported a downtown revitalization that spurred additional businesses to open. Obama and Biden were slated to visit a Chrysler transmission plant in Kokomo.
Some Republican members of Congress vowed to try to stop the Obama administration from using unobligated stimulus money, including the DOT’s passenger rail and discretionary grants, once the GOP takes control of the House in January. “It must be perceived as a real threat by the administration,” said one transportation expert in Washington, “because the DOT is doing everything it can to get the money obligated.”
Incoming GOP governors of Wisconsin and Ohio also said they would halt passenger rail projects for their states, but the DOT turned down their requests to redirect grants totaling $1.2 billion into road repair funds. Instead, the department plans to make the money available to other states’ passenger rail programs, and some are already trying to get it.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, also a Republican, wrote to DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, confessing to “a certain sense of astonishment” that some governors would want to give up the intercity rail money. “You are more than welcome to redirect that money to California,” he told LaHood, “where we know how to use it” on a high-speed rail plan.
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