Road construction will continue in Alabama. At least for now.
As the federal Highway Trust Fund neared depletion, Congress last week passed a last-minute $11 billion stop-gap measure to shore up money for highway projects through May.
And while the action keeps federal money flowing to states, transportation officials say they’re still worried about what will happen when that money runs out nine months down the road.
“It makes it very difficult for the Department of Transportation and for our contractors,” said Ronald Baldwin, the chief engineer with the Alabama Department of Transportation. “In terms of planning, it makes it hard for contractors to know if they can add additional people or equipment.”
ALDOT received more than $700 million from the federal government annually over the last two years. Anthony Foxx, secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said last month that states could see funding cut as high as 28 percent without intervention from Congress.
The federal Highway Trust Fund receives money from an 18 cent gasoline tax, which has not been raised in more than two decades. While some members of Congress and transportation advocacy groups suggested raising the tax to shore up money, Congress was unable to find a long-term, permanent solution for the lack of money for highway projects.
“I hate to say it, but it is not surprising at all,” said Calhoun County Engineer Brian Rosenbalm on the decision to only temporary hold-off the fund’s depletion. “It concerns me because our Department of Transportation needs that money. We do small projects, but they do extensive, multi-million-dollar projects.”
Calhoun County receives more than $30,000 annually from the state Department of Transportation, while municipalities also rely on federal grants to complete local projects. Rosenbalm said if that number were to be cut in half, for example, he doesn’t see how the county could continue to fund bridge or resurfacing projects.
Baldwin said the last-minute action by Congress didn’t have any effect on already in-progress road construction in the state, or any upcoming projects. Still, he said he fears that the measure only puts a little bit of time for the federal government to have to make another big decision. And in the meantime, Baldwin said, the states are left hanging.
“In terms of planning, it just leaves us in the dark,” he said. “I really hope that we don’t have to go through all of this again in May.”