The partial government shutdown, triggered by the dispute over President Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, has entered its 19th day. Unfortunately, the shutdown is directly impacting infrastructure projects across the country. Many key federal agencies responsible for our nation’s infrastructure are not fully operational, which affects our nation’s roads, bridges, parks, and transit systems, as new projects cannot get started and current projects are put on hold.
As of now, many federal construction programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) have been directly affected by this shutdown. State DOTs across the country, uncertain of future federal funding, have been hesitant to authorize highway construction projects planned for 2019. For example, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation postponed accepting bids for approximately $137 million in projects because the state is uncertain of whether the federal share will be reimbursed. In Oklahoma, bidding for summer projects occurs in the first two months of the year, and an extended shutdown will adversely affect the summer construction season.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a notice earlier this week giving 50 state DOTs and the District of Columbia an extra $30 billion to start new federal-aid highway projects. However, the FHWA warned these agencies that if Congress enacts a short-term agreement to reopen the government, the states will have to put most of that money back in the interim. Some USDOT infrastructure entities could also be affected, such as Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD, formerly TIGER) grants, which draw from the general fund. USDOT just recently announced nearly $1.5 billion in BUILD grant awards, which have been slowed down due to the shutdown.
The shutdown is not only harming our country’s infrastructure and related agencies. Billions of dollars in post-disaster aid to cities and states have been delayed due to the U.S. Housing & Urban Development’s (HUD) inability to issue guidance on how to apply for the funds. Additionally, many of our National Park System parks remain open but unstaffed by park rangers—leading to health, safety, and environmental concerns as trash and human waste pile-up, roads go unplowed, and historically prominent sites are vandalized. These park closures also have a direct effect on surrounding cities’ economies. Finally, thousands of ongoing transportation investigations, research, and engineering efforts are put on hold as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident investigators have been furloughed due to the shutdown.
In an effort to end this partial shutdown, the U.S. House of Representatives has begun to take up appropriation bills to reopen the Cabinet-level departments and affected agencies. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to take up:
- HR 267, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019, which provides $71.4 billion in spending, which is $1.1 billion more than the FY 2018 level and $23.3 billion more than the President’s FY19 budget request. The bill also provides for the release of $49 billion from both the highway and aviation trust funds. Under this legislation, there is $750 million in supplemental funding for Airport Improvement Program (AIP), $1 billion for BUILD Grants, and $2.6 billion for Transit Capital Grants (CIG).
- HR. 266, the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2019. The bill provides $35.9 billion to the USDOI and the EPA, including $63 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program and $2.9 billion combined for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds—all of which are also equal to the current FY18 funding level.
H.R. 267 and H.R. 266 are effectively identical to the bill language passed by the Senate in 2018 in a “minibus,” or multi-appropriations bills package.
As negotiations between Congress and the President continue, ASCE’s government relations team will continue to actively encourage Members of Congress and the Administration to end this partial shutdown, which will put employees back to work, open our parks, and resume infrastructure projects. Then federal lawmakers can begin to advance legislation that invests in our country’s infrastructure, including an infrastructure bill. For our nation to have a complete infrastructure system and progress towards the future, Congress and the Administration must now work together to open up the government and resume our crucial infrastructure projects.