Federal funding fight may not hurt Utah roads initially
Congress • But if current gridlock continues long-term, it could stall some projects.
Published: July 5, 2014 03:32PM
Updated: July 5, 2014 10:37AM

While the Obama administration warns that many states may need to hit the brakes on highway and transit programs within a month because of gridlock in Congress, Utah officials say such slowdowns won’t hit here as fast.

“We’re in a unique position because federal funding is only 20 percent of our total budget,” said John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation. “Some states rely more heavily on federal funding, and those states may face more challenges.”

President Barack Obama and members of his administration have been holding several events saying the Highway Trust Fund will soon go broke unless Congress acts quickly. They say cuts to states will begin in early August, and deepen by the end of the month when the trust fund’s balance is expected to hit zero.

Also on Sept. 30, the government’s current authority to spend money on transportation programs expires unless Congress acts.

At an event beneath a bridge in Washington, D.C., this week, Obama said as many as 700,000 jobs are at risk. “That would be like Congress threatening to lay off the entire population of Denver, Seattle or Boston,” he said.

But Utah officials aren’t too worried — yet. Gleason said all of UDOT’s highway projects now underway could continue this summer toward completion.

“There may be a delay in reimbursement from the feds, but we have enough in our reserve that we will be able to take care of that and pay our contractors on time,” he said.

“We’re optimistic that Congress will make a decision before it affects us in the long term,” Gleason added.

But if delays are long enough, maintenance and rehabilitation work in Utah would be the first hit, he said. Big projects to add capacity with new lanes or road widening would be hurt less.

For example, a major project planned next year to rebuild and widen Interstate 15 around the Point of the Mountain in Salt Lake and Utah counties “is 100 percent funded with state funds,” Gleason said.

Delays in Congress could also affect funding for mass transit, but the Utah Transit Authority is not overly concerned yet.

“UTA is watching the transportation funding issue closely and is communicating our concerns to our congressional delegation,” said Steve Meyer, the agency’s chief capital development officer.

“UTA receives federal transportation dollars that assist us with the maintenance of our transit system as well as the construction of new services,” he said. “We are hopeful that Congress will act quickly to establish a long-term dependable source of transportation funding.”