By Dean Franks, senior vice president, congressional relations

Long-sought aid for various transportation entities reeling from pandemic-induced revenue declines, including $10 billion for state departments of transportation (DOTs), Dec. 21 passed through Congress as part of a 5,593-page year-end legislative package.

The $45 billion in total transportation-related COVID relief spending and operational assistance breaks down as:

  • $16 billion for airline and airline contractor payroll support
  • $14 billion for public transportation agencies
  • $10 billion for state departments of transportation
  • $2 billion for airports
  • $2 billion for private motor coach
  • $1 billion for Amtrak

Of particular note for ARTBA members is the $10 billion in aid to state DOTs. The legislation directs the following for this program:

  • $9.84 billion will be distributed to states via the same formula used for annual obligations of authorized Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) funds.
    • The other $160 million will be distributed for Puerto Rico, U.S. territories and tribes.
  • While funds can be used for STBG activities (the broadest of the core federal transportation construction programs), state DOTs will have greater-than-normal flexibility in the use of these funds.
    • Uses include: “for preventive maintenance, routine maintenance, operations, personnel, including salaries of employees (including those employees who have been placed on administrative leave) or contractors, debt service payments, availability payments, and coverage for other revenue losses.”
    • DOTs can also distribute, at their discretion, a portion of their funding for toll agencies.
  • State DOTs with urbanized areas over 200,000 people will sub-allocate a portion of their funds to those areas.
  • There is no state share associated with this spending allocation, allowing all projects to receive 100 percent federal funds.
  • The funds will go out within 30 days from enactment of the law and will remain available for use through Fiscal Year 2024.

The flexibility given to state DOTs is also extended to public transit agencies and airports, allowing for their funds to go towards operations and agency salaries as well.

The $10 billion for highway program funding is positive news for the transportation construction industry.  However, the increased flexibility in the use of funds means governors and state DOT directors may choose to use some or all of their resources on operations, salaries and other needs. Therefore, it is imperative for ARTBA members to work with their state DOTs to ensure as much of this revenue as possible will go into transportation improvements.

See ARTBA coverage of other Omnibus/COVID Relief News:

Small businesses will receive additional support through renewal of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and clarity around tax deductibility of PPP loans was also provided in the COVID relief package. Learn more about small business aid.

The year-end legislation also reauthorizes legislation that supports marine transportation infrastructure programs and would finally enable the spending of funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Learn more about the Water Resources Development Act.

The year-end legislation provides supplemental expenditures for transportation programs of nearly $4 billion above authorized levels. This is the fourth consecutive year transportation programs received supplemental spending. Learn more about year-end spending bills.