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Federal Highway Funds for Washington D.C. Increases

Despite the increase, city transportation officials say they are feeling the pinch of diminishing transportation funds.

Mon March 09, 2015 - Northeast Edition

WASHINGTON (AP) While many states have been scrambling to make up for a drop in federal highway funding over the past several years, road-construction dollars sent to the District of Columbia have continued to increase, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.

Federal highway spending in the nation’s capital increased by nearly 6 percent between 2008 and 2013, the most recent year for which data are available. Highway spending has not, however, kept up with the District’s rapidly rising population. And despite the increase, city transportation officials say they are feeling the pinch.

Funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund has dropped nationwide because of a change in the funding formula by Congress. A temporary funding patch is scheduled to expire in May, and lawmakers have been at odds over a long-term highway plan.

“Without a fix for the Highway Trust Fund, we risk significant strain on local resources and our capacity to complete and start transportation projects,’’ said Greer Gillis, deputy director of the District Department of Transportation.

Nonetheless, the figures show the District is faring better than most states. Only 12 states enjoyed an increase in funding between 2008 and 2013, during which the nation’s capital saw a 6 percent increase. Nationwide, federal highway funding to states dropped by 3.5 percent during those years.

The District did see a major decrease between 2012, when it received $235 million in federal highway dollars, and 2013, when it got $166 million. That’s because the District received a $75 million earmark in 2012 for preliminary work on the South Capitol Street bridge replacement project, Gillis said.

The most expensive project funded by federal highway dollars in recent years was the replacement of the 11th Street bridges over the Anacostia River, a project that, for the first time, provided a seamless link between two of the city’s major highways: the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and Interstate 295. Although the bridges are complete, some roads that connect to them are not, and that’s one of many projects that could be delayed by a loss of federal funding in the future, Gillis said.

Other projects in jeopardy of being delayed or scaled back are the South Capitol Street bridge, the Capital Bikeshare program and routine road-paving and maintenance work that DDOT relies on federal dollars for, Gillis said.

The District is not considering a gas-tax increase or any other tax hikes to make up for a potential loss in federal highway dollars, and will instead try to use federal grants or public-private partnerships to fill those gaps.

“It’s up to us to be innovative,’’ Gillis said.

On a per-capita basis, the District, like most states, saw a drop in federal highway spending between 2008 and 2013. Only six states saw a per capita increase in spending. The nation’s capital has grown substantially over roughly the same period, from 601,000 residents in the 2010 Census to an estimated 658,000 last year. Only North Dakota gained population at a faster rate.

Between 2003 and 2013, the District fared even better, with the third-highest per capita funding increase in the nation, 46 percent.

Along with population growth, the number of people in the District roughly doubles on an average workday due to commuters and tourists, further stressing its transportation infrastructure. Gillis said the District is not getting special treatment compared to the states and that city officials go through the same process as states to request federal highway dollars.

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