The Utah Department of Transportation warned state lawmakers Wednesday that tough new enforcement of a federal law requiring that only U.S. iron and steel be used in federally funded highway projects could bring significant delays and cost increases locally.
"If one piece of iron or steel does not meet Buy America [Act] requirements, it eliminates the option to be reimbursed for the entire project, not just for that one item," Randy Park, UDOT project development director, told the Legislature's Interim Transportation Committee.
He said the problem is not so much with large bridge girders or rebar in cement which UDOT has plenty of experience in obtaining from certified U.S. sources but with small items like nails and screws, whose origin may be murky. Also, utility companies are having trouble finding U.S. makers of poles, wire and some pipe they use in highway corridors, which may disqualify an entire highway project.
Park said in the past, the Federal Highway Administration allowed contractors to self-certify that smaller items they used were manufactured in the United States, but now is requiring more lengthy certification by UDOT that will increase costs and may bring delays.
Park said UDOT is looking for ways to solve the problem. One possibility is to seek a waiver from federal authorities when essential items cannot be found from American sources and it is doing that in some cases. However, he said that takes time and delays projects.
He said UDOT also is looking at separating out of highway contracts the work to move utilities for road projects and pay for that only with state dollars to allow use of materials made from foreign sources.
The trouble with that, he said, is projects will have to wait for utilities to be moved before other construction begins, instead of working in tandem with it which he said will lead to months of delay and higher costs.
Park said state and local transportation officials nationwide are concerned about the problem, and are working jointly on possible solutions, but felt the Legislature should be warned about potential costs and delays.
Rep. Brad Last, R-Hurricane, said, "I think this is a perfect example of where you may end up doing so much expensive administration that it [accepting federal money] ends up costing more. It's one of those perfect examples of why we don't need the federal government."