Road construction money running out

WARREN TOWNSHIP, Ohio (WKBN) – Ohio and other states across the country could see a large gap in their construction budgets if Congress does not reach an agreement quickly on how to pay for federal highway and transit programs.

That is because the balance in the Federal Highway Trust Fund is dropping and soon will go below $4 billion, which is the cushion federal officials say is needed for incoming fuel tax revenue to cover outgoing payments to states.

The cutbacks also will be felt on the local level.

“Especially with this past winter, which was probably one of the worst winters we have had in 20 or 30 years. Roads are in bad shape, so we are very concerned about that. We are doing what we can on the local level, working with our highway engineer to seek as many grants as possible,” said Trumbull County Commissioner Dan Polivka.

States could feel cutbacks as soon as the first week in August if lawmakers don’t act.

“So if I have a project ready to go to engineering, I won’t be able to set up an engineering contract to begin the engineering process for construction in a couple of years. And also if I have a project that already is engineered and it’s ready for sale, it’s ready to go out to bid, I am not going to be able to bid it out because those funds will not be guaranteed,” said Gary Shaffer, an engineer with the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office.

Right now, counties receive 80 percent of their road construction funding from the federal government.

Shaffer said he has a couple dozens projects on the board that rely on federal money.

“If I don’t have that money, I can’t proceed to engineering, which will push those projects from 2017 to 2018. It is a tight schedule with these federal projects and they are locked down two years ahead of time, so there could be some bumping of projects,” Shaffer said.

That includes improvements to the Elm Road and North River Road intersection, four bridge replacement projects, including one on Palmyra Road in Warren Township and the installing of sidewalks on Colonial Drive in Liberty.

Projects such as the Olive Street bridge in Niles, which already are under construction and have all the money secured will not be affected.

It could eventually have an effect on traffic patterns.

“Bridges will continue to deteriorate and as they get downgraded, we look at the possibility of load posting, which a lot of them already are load posted, or closing these bridges,” Shaffer said.

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