The state of Utah is delaying 25 highway paving projects worth $65 million from this year's bidding schedule for its weather-shortened construction calendar, a state senator told Congress (see related AJ story), because of uncertainty over when the federal share of project costs might be reimbursed from the Highway Trust Fund.
Utah State Sen. Curt Bramble, who is president-elect of the National Conference of State Legislatures, made the disclosure May 5 in testimony at a U.S. Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on the importance of a long-term reauthorization of the trust fund.
His testimony comes at a time a number of congressional leaders are indicating Congress will probably enact a short-term extension before the trust fund's authority expires May 31, and put off trying to pass a long-term bill until later this year.
Bramble told lawmakers: "The uncertainty that pervades short-term extensions makes it extremely challenging for states to adequately plan and achieve their performance targets, especially because many transportation infrastructure projects require a multi-year commitment. It is difficult for me to overstate the negative state impacts this uncertainty creates."
He explained that Utah, like many other cold-weather states, has a limited road project season every year. It schedules bid lettings "to maximize competitive bids and take into account the capacity of contractors to prepare bids for multiple projects at any one time," Bramble said, and aims to have its entire construction program bid out by May each year.
However, he said, "due to the uncertainty of federal funding and short-term extensions … Utah withheld one-third of our bid letting for the current year."
Now, even if Congress extends that authorization beyond May, he said, "a portion of the 2015 construction program will be lost. While we could resume bidding activities later, it will be too late for larger paving projects. We anticipate 25 projects with a total value of $65 million will be deferred to next year. These delays have a harmful impact on the state's broader economy."
As AASHTO Journal has reported, at least four other states – Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas and Wyoming – have already publicly identified more than $1.3 billion in highway construction and paving projects that they have delayed from this year's schedule, out of concern the federal funds might not be readily available when the states would need to pay bills from their contractors.