Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Federal Gov't FAIL: US DOT Set to Shut Down

As we've become so accustomed to hearing from D.C... the game of politics is getting nothing done and now the United States Department of Transportation is facing a temporary shutdown. A "Jobs Bill" meant to extend unemployment benefits has been blocked by a single U.S. Senator Jim Bunning (R., Ky.). According to the Wall Street Journal the bill included a funding extension for Highway Trust Fund which has now expired, causing 2,000 USDOT employees to be furloughed and potentially $768 million in infrastructure projects to be halted.

This is causing many strains, including on state governments which are faced with losing approximately $150 million per day in federal reimbursement payments. At a time when many states are already on the edge of financial insolvency this is just one more headache to deal with. This is even trickling down to local Public Works type agencies that were relying upon federal funding and cost sharing for projects.

This shouldn't be much of a surprise since the Federal Government's continued failing to pass a new transportation bill has had a similar effect and has forced states and municipalities to make hard choices about what projects to try to fund (in stark contrast to the effect of the Stimulus where many projects went ahead with little oversight).

Missoula makes great use of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) which is part of Federal transportation funding. CMAQ funding helps pay for pedestrian and bicycle facilities as well as the purchase of buses for both Mountain Line and ASUM Transportation, the student funded bus service to the UM campus. Lack of CMAQ funding has meant that ASUM Transportation cant replace marginally safe buses that are over 20 years old rather than being able to purchase new buses that meet the strictest federal safety regulations. Because of the Federal Government's flaccid ability to actually get anything done ASUM Transportation is facing a hard choice between continuing to run old buses that pollute heavily (compared to a new bus) and breakdown constantly, or cut the budget by about 15%, consequently eliminating 4 or 5 student positions, to be able to attempt to purchase new buses using only ASUM funds.

Some people will undoubtedly rejoice in the gridlock in Washington, but when people and local governments have no idea what direction the Federal Government will take... it makes it just a little hard to plan for the long term or to invest in equipment or infrastructure.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Looks like Bunning has relented now. I think the bill will pass.

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