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DOT Stimulus Payouts Rise $347 Million in Week
Friday, 14 August 2009 00:00

Total disbursements for infrastructure projects approach $1.5 billion by Aug. 7

Stimulus money is rolling out of the Department of Transportation at ever-increasing amounts to pay for initial infrastructure projects, as DOT spending jumped by $347 million in the latest week.

That pushed the total it has paid out so far to $1.494 billion through Aug. 7, up from $1.147 billion a week earlier. The latest disbursement total is nearly triple the $523 million DOT had paid out by the first week of July.

But the actual amounts spent only reflect payment of bills coming in from states, which in most cases happen after engineering or construction work is already done. Therefore they understate how much economic activity the stimulus is generating.

The department said through the first week of August it had approved $24.1 billion in project applications from the states, half the total it will eventually allocate.

Some DOT programs that will spend large sums are just now receiving grant applications, including a $1.5 billion discretionary account that DOT Secretary Ray LaHood says will fund a lot of port projects.

Much of the money spent so far went through the Federal Highway Administration for fast-start road and bridge repairs, but that account also covers some freight rail, port and trucking facility projects at states’ discretion. Some DOT funds have also gone into airport and transit construction projects.

FHWA said it has allocated $17.4 billion or 65 percent of its total Recovery Act money. Of that, it said through Aug. 7 it paid out $785 million, and its project approvals were backing nearly 3,000 active projects around the country worth $8.3 billion. FHWA has also authorized another 3,400 projects to begin, DOT said.

DOT also said four states and 17 municipalities chose to transfer highway funds totaling $267 million to projects administered by the Federal Transit Administration. In all, FTA has awarded 470 grants worth $4.3 billion for projects including passenger rail and bus services.

Separately, DOT will soon receive applications for $8 billion in Recovery Act funds for high-speed passenger rail projects, some of which include improvements to existing freight rail lines that also serve Amtrak passenger trains.

Across all agencies, spending authorizations under the $787 billion stimulus law were up to $200 billion through Aug. 7, according to the Recovery.gov Web site. Disbursements were at $77.1 billion or nearly 10 percent of the projected total.

Those range from payroll tax cuts to extended unemployment benefits to special one-time payments for Social Security and railroad retirees and the “cash for clunkers” vehicle purchase incentives that are helping perk up auto manufacturing.

Other federal stimulus actions include Coast Guard approvals for rehabbing some railroad bridges over navigable waterways, and grant awards by the Environmental Protection Agency to help buy cleaner burning locomotives, commercial trucks, harbor tugs and city buses. FHWA also spends on equipment under a congestion mitigation program, and both it and the EPA grant funds were bolstered by the Recovery Act.

National Railway Equipment of Mt. Vernon, Ill., said it received orders in July for 14 of its ultra-lowemission locomotives, worth $21.4 million. NRE officials said a third of that total or about $7 million was in stimulus money for an FWHA program that CSX Transportation tapped to buy five of those units.

Journal of Commerce, 8/14/2009