Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, or PennDOT, announced hundreds of ongoing projects in the state, as well as future projects, would be stopped or delayed on December 1st without immediate action from the state legislature to authorize the agency to borrow $600 million. Fortunately, shortly after PennDOT raised alarm about the impending shutdown, Governor Wolf and state legislators came to an agreement that has now directed PennDOT to anticipate that pending and expected reimbursements will cover current construction and design expenses, allowing ongoing construction and design work to continue.
This agreement was a direct result of the strong advocacy efforts of ASCE’s Pennsylvania members, who mobilized quickly and sent nearly 400 messages to the state legislature in the days before Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the bipartisan agreement is only a temporary solution. A more permanent solution for the department’s funding shortfall will need to be identified by February or March 2021. Despite the temporary fix, 50 projects the state expected to put out for bid in early December are now delayed until a longer-term solution is found.
The recent emergency at PennDOT is just one example of the budget shortfalls facing DOTs across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Pennsylvania for example, reductions in road traffic since March will cost PennDOT $500 million to $600 million in gasoline tax revenue this year, rendering the department out of cash. Nationally, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials estimates that state DOT revenue losses due to the pandemic totals $37 billion over five years – through fiscal year (FY) 2024 – with an estimated loss of $16 billion in FY2020. As a result, the ability of state DOTs to carry out their core functions, including capital construction programs, is threatened. Since the beginning of the pandemic, many state DOTs have imposed furloughs and delayed or cancelled $8.6 billion in critical transportation projects, putting at risk transportation construction jobs and the timely realization of benefits those projects bring to communities and commerce.
Now is the time for Congress to act and address the funding shortfalls seen in DOTs across the country. The threat of state DOTs canceling and delaying projects is not unique to Pennsylvania and without further COVID-19 relief from Congress, our nation’s $2 trillion infrastructure deficit will continue to grow, hurting economic recovery efforts and negatively impacting the quality of life for every American.