States await old earmarks available through omnibus provision

By Ariel Wittenberg | 01/28/2016 06:54 AM EST

States are anxiously awaiting a calculation from the Federal Highway Administration that could open up access to more than $2 billion in unused, decade-old congressional earmarks.

December’s omnibus appropriations bill for fiscal 2016 included a provision allowing state departments of transportation to reallocate earmarks that are more than 10 years old if they haven’t yet spent more than 10 percent of the original funding (Greenwire, Dec. 16, 2015).

"This money is extremely welcome and will be well-used by states," said American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Executive Director Bud Wright. "These dollars are more than 10 years old; it is very, very unlikely that they would have been spent on their original projects going forward. The fact that they can now be reassessed is definitely a good thing."


The FHWA has been tasked with reviewing old earmarks to determine which ones are eligible, but preliminary estimates place the total sum at $2.2 billion.

Unlike money in the Highway Trust Fund, which is allocated proportionally state by state based on population, the old earmarks would remain in the state where they were originally intended, and states would have to use the money for projects within a 50-mile radius of the one that was originally funded.

Wright said he expects that most states will receive some funding from the measure, but that the amount could range from "$200 million to just a few million, depending on their project history."

A FHWA spokesman said the agency is still working on implementing the omnibus provision and "anticipates providing the necessary guidance in the near future."

While states are waiting to figure out exactly how they will spend their newfound cash until the FHWA makes a determination, Wright said he believes most of the funding will go to help projects that are already underway.

"For states that have projects that for some reason never went forward, this un-earmarked funding gives them the flexibility to invest in their infrastructure."