USDOT Frees Up Nearly $16M for Michigan Road, Transit Projects

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in Transportation Issues Daily. Reprinted with permission.

The United States Department of Transportation is rescinding $473 million from 671 unused 2003-06 earmarks, and making the funds available for other surface transportation projects.

The White House announced the effort, portraying it as part of the “We Can’t Wait” initiative (see the news release). The Washington Post reports “Obama has adopted the slogan 'We Can’t Wait' to contrast his efforts with congressional Republicans, who have balked at many of his plans.”

The Administration has the authority to rescind the earmarks because of language that was included in the appropriations bills.  The authority has existed for years, but this the first time it’s been used.

It appears that each state’s unused funding will remain allocated to that state. For example, Michigan’s $15,806,886.79 will remain with Michigan (list of totals by state are available here).

While many of the unused earmarks were to local agencies, it is unclear whether a state has the flexibility or obligation to provide funding for local agency projects. States must identify how they plan to redirect the funds by Oct. 1, and obligate the funding by Dec. 31.

The earmarks were for projects that are essentially dead for one reason or another. Other projects are alive but have been held up over design, environmental, funding or other issues. Whether a state could re-designate funding back to the project losing the earmark is not clear from USDOT’s announcement.

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And while many of the unused earmarks were for road projects, and all the funding was provided through highway accounts, the redirected funds can be used for practically any surface transportation project.

Secretary LaHood notes that “state departments of transportation will have the ability to use their unspent earmarked highway funds, some of which are nearly 10 years old, on any eligible highway, transit, passenger rail, or port project (emphasis added).”

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Can you think of ways MDOT should be spending this money? If so, attend one of their upcoming long-range planning forums.

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