The Department of Transportation's efforts to lock in remaining funds from the 2009 economic stimulus package have it closing in on the main target -- obligating all $48.1 billion that was allocated in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The DOT said, in its latest listing of money spent and made available on the Obama administration's Recovery.gov Web site, that as of Dec. 31 it had made over $43.9 billion available so that transportation construction projects can move ahead.
That is up sharply from $40.7 billion in DOT stimulus funds available to projects on Dec. 3, and reflects an intentional push to complete contracts that formally commit remaining money from the nearly two-year-old economic rescue program.
Some members of Congress, especially in the new House GOP majority, have said they may try to recoup any unobligated stimulus funds to help curb the federal budget deficit.
Most of the DOT's stimulus funds were made available to states under formulas already in place through existing federal programs for highway, transit and airport needs. DOT officials separately awarded $8 billion in passenger rail project grants and $1.5 billion in special-use discretionary grants.
After designating projects to receive those new grants, however, it has spent months trying to nail down often complex implementing agreements between states, federal agencies and third parties such as railroads. Some of those have finally been signed in recent weeks, clearing the way for additional projects to move ahead once weather permits this spring. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood also quickly redirected some passenger rail money when incoming governors said they would kill projects in Wisconsin and Ohio.
Under the ARRA process, the DOT pays out most funds only after projects are completed or reach certain progress benchmarks. The DOT said it has paid out $24.8 billion as of Dec. 31 from its $48.1 billion total. That is up from $23.6 billion on Dec. 3, but critics say the administration is paying out stimulus money too slowly and should do more to speed up the process.
-- Contact John D. Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org.