Wednesday, July 31, 2019

FHWA and ALDOT may have left monies unspent, opening potential route for more federal funding of Mobile River Bridge (Updated)

Original headline: FHWA and ALDOT leave billions unspent, opening potential route for federal funding of Mobile River Bridge

I need to apologize to FHWA, ALDOT, and readers. In my haste to get an item into the public space, I didn't heed the tenets of my own Code of Ethics. I didn't test my assumptions and as a result, I hastily went with an erroneous conclusion about the bottom line. I regret that error and I promise to avoid such sloppiness in the future.

After a more careful review of the FHWA data, I have concluded that most of the project line items in the spreadsheets linked below represent projects that carry over for more than one fiscal year. They are not universally the "use or lose" appropriations that are so common in federal spending.

However, there are a number of projects in the spreadsheet arrays for which substantial funds were obligated during a fiscal year and either saw zero expenditures or had significant shortfalls in the amounts used, and which then were not carried forward into the next fiscal year. For whatever reason the funds weren't used, it is true that reprogramming unspent appropriations could release funds for use elsewhere in the state.

For that matter, it is also probably true that unused funds in other states could be reprogrammed and repurposed for use in Alabama. Those amounts could reach into the billions, but stating that there are billions available for this project is not justified.

President Donald Trump recently moved to re-purpose planned spending on military and national security measures, shifting it to fund the construction of physical barriers along the U.S. southern border to combat the growing illegal immigration crisis. The Trump Administration succeeded in getting the funds reprogrammed when the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the action earlier this month.

FHWA has also historically moved funds from various projects to others in different parts of the country.

My accounting error does not affect my review of the SDEIS for the Mobile River Bridge.  The SDEIS has numerous fundamental flaws and should not be made part of the Federal Register in its current state.

I have formally asked ALDOT to delay finalization of the NEPA-required project decision documents so that technical and policy issues may be addressed. Perhaps such a delay could present officials with the opportunity to also evaluate alternative means of financing.

Data on project costs by state, along with funds obligated and funds spent, come from annual reports that FHWA is required to provide in accordance with Section 1503(c) of the Moving Ahead For Progress in the 21st Century Act (Public Law 112-141). The law required the Secretary of Transportation to publicly disclose and list each project by state. The law was one of the rare bipartisan acts of Congress during the starkly divisive and bitterly partisan term of President Barack Obama.

Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets with the expenditure data are available on this page at the FHWA website.

You may read a full detailed technical and policy review of the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement at this page on IBCR.

Comments and questions on this item may be directed to


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