A number of state departments of transportation are telling lawmakers and residents to expect their highway systems to continue to deteriorate unless legislatures provide more project funding, and some states are eyeing unusual steps to keep projects moving.
A senior Michigan DOT official – Chief Operations Officer Mark Van Port Fleet – recently warned state House and Senate transportation committees, the Detroit News reported, that "the results of our predictive model is that the condition of pavement is going to continue to decline" despite higher state and federal funding levels approved in the past year.
A March 22 MDOT staff analysis said: "A significant amount of pavement is in fair condition. Even with the recent passage of increased state and federal transportation revenue, many of these pavements, if not addressed soon, will fall into poor condition. Once pavements deteriorate into the poor category, it is more costly to bring them back into good condition."
New state projections also see vehicle miles on state roads going up faster than earlier estimates, with congestion continuing to worsen.
The MDOT official told lawmakers that a large multiyear state funding plan, signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder last November, is "going to slow the decline" in road conditions, the Detroit News said.
AASHTO and other industry trade groups have said the new five-year FAST Act federal surface transportation legislation provided "modest" increases in core highway and transit program funding. While that was an improvement from previous levels, AASHTO has said it was not enough to allow states to eliminate their large backlog of needed infrastructure projects to maintain their networks and reduce congestion.
Bud Wright, AASHTO's executive director, said state struggles for transportation funding are likely to continue.
"We are already seeing record-high traffic volumes, and the population and freight traffic will only keep growing," he said. "States are having to make hard decisions on how much to invest in their transportation networks without much more help at the federal level, even though the integrated highway system is a national economic asset. So far Congress has mainly pushed infrastructure expenses back to state governments."
In Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Missouri DOT plans to "dip heavily into its cash reserves to secure federal matching funds in coming years," a plan that risks drawing reserves too low to handle sudden high-cost repairs or drops in projected revenues.
One Missouri House lawmaker introduced legislation to auction off naming rights to highway and bridges as an alternative to a Senate plan to raise motor fuel user taxes.
Auditors for the South Carolina General Assembly told lawmakers they needed to increase funding for the state DOT, besides recommendations the audit panel made for how the SCDOT can improve its accounting and reporting on use of funds. (See story in the States section of this week's Journal.)
But news reports said differences on funding measures between the House and Senate could kill funding legislation for this year.
Among others finding their budgets crimped is the Oklahoma DOT, where appropriations have been repeatedly cut as overall state revenues fell below forecasts, partly due to lower state receipts from oil and gas production.
And in Mississippi, where DOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath has warned that her department faces "dire" investment choices without more funding, lawmakers unable to reach agreement on a proposed fuel tax increase killed a placeholder bill this month at the deadline for revenue-generating legislation.