The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) Commission voted Jan. 14 to take steps recommended by SCDOT staff to prepare for any funding that South Carolina would receive for highway projects in the economic stimulus package proposed by President Barack Obama. The action was taken at the Commission’s monthly meeting in Columbia.
SCDOT staff has spent more than a year taking steps to make sure South Carolina will be able to take full advantage of any funding provided for highway infrastructure in any stimulus bill passed by Congress. Since the legislation has not been formally drafted as of yet, SCDOT has been working with staff from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to gather information about the possible requirements that each state will have to meet to receive funding. Based on this coordination with FHWA, here are some of the key points that appear to be shaping up based on what is known as of Jan. 15:
• SCDOT may receive an additional $500 to $600 million in federal funds.
• Those figures represent an approximate doubling of what SCDOT has been allotted in federal aid construction funds for 2009.
• The stimulus package will likely have a “use it or lose it” clause that will apply to SCDOT’s stimulus funding following the passage of the bill. This means that whatever dollars are received by SCDOT will have to be awarded to construction in a time-restricted period of time in an effort to get the work under way.
A significant point that SCDOT staff is conscious of is that the rules will probably require that any funds not fully used by a state DOT within the windows dictated by Congress will be returned to FHWA for redistribution to states that have successfully allotted all of their funds for construction.
The SCDOT Commission was advised by staff that a series of steps needed to be taken immediately to satisfy regulations that govern the use of federal highway funds. A public involvement period of time must be conducted to allow input from the general public. Approvals for the use of these funds must be secured from FHWA and where applicable, the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). Staffing levels to handle the doubling of the number of projects that would result from a stimulus package must be evaluated quickly. Final plans and contracts must be prepared for projects at this time to qualify them as “shovel ready.”
The SCDOT Commission voted to approve allowing staff to move forward on these and other steps, and included permission for staff to take whatever action necessary to prepare stimulus package projects to meet federal requirements. SCDOT staff will have the ability to enter into contracts with the lowest responsive and responsible bidders, and report all actions to the commission at its subsequent meetings during the course of the period in which projects must be “shovel ready.”
The funding levels that may be provided by an economic stimulus package are still unknown. However the SCDOT Commission’s action provides an allocation process that SCDOT engineers can use as a guideline to prepare projects.
A general plan is in place in terms of what categories of projects will be funded: interstate resurfacing and rehabilitation, safety improvements, bridge replacements and mass transit funding for the purpose of replacing buses and other capital improvements. In addition, projects on the priority lists of the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), the Councils of Governments (COGs), the South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank (SCTIB) and Count Transportation Committees (CTAs) will be prepared for funding.
Transportation Secretary H.B. “Buck” Limehouse Jr. praised the commission for its action.
“The commission has had the foresight to see that we have a lot of work ahead of us, but getting started right now should pay off in the coming months,” said Limehouse. “Our commission recognizes that our goal should be to fully maximize all the stimulus funds that would come to South Carolina, and to be prepared for additional funds if other states fall behind the curve,” he added.
The latest information available to SCDOT is that stimulus projects must meet all standard federal aid requirements. In South Carolina, approximately 18,000 of the state’s 41,000-mi. highway system are considered federal aid highways. Once the level of funding is known, SCDOT engineers will determine how many projects can be funded on those 18,000 mi.