In one of her first major announcements under the new Trump administration, US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has approved the release of US$768.2m of federal funds to help pay for emergency repair work to roads and bridges damaged by storms or other catastrophic events in 40 states.
Funded through the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Emergency Relief (ER) program, it is one of the largest single awards for such repair work made by the federal government. The FHWA’s ER program reimburses states for eligible expenses associated with major damage to all forms of transportation infrastructure from natural disasters or other emergency situations, which are based on a request from the Governor of the state or a Presidential disaster declaration.
The applicability of the ER program to a naturally-caused catastrophe is based on the extent and intensity of the disaster. Damage to highways must be severe, occur over a wide area, and result in unusually high expenses to the highways agency concerned. Applicability of ER to a catastrophic failure due to an external cause is based on the criteria that the failure was not the result of an inherent flaw in the facility, but was sudden, caused a disastrous impact on transportation services, and resulted in unusually high expenses to the highway agency.
Approved ER funds are available at the pro-rata share that would normally apply to the Federal-aid facility damaged. For Interstate highways, the Federal share is 90%, and for all other highways, the share is 80%. The Federal share for permanent ER repairs may amount to 90% if the combined eligible ER expenses incurred by the State in a Federal fiscal year exceeds the annual apportionment of funding under the US Code for the year in which the disasters or failures occurred.
The new ER funds will help 40 states across the USA, from Alaska to Florida, as well as roads serving several national parks, US forests, and other federal lands. At US$124m, Colorado topped the list among states to be reimbursed from this release of ER program funds, which will cover widespread repairs to severe flooding damage in the state that goes back to 2013, and to repair a section of I-70 in Glenwood Springs damaged in 2016 by a rock slide, helping the route’s 17,000 daily drivers.
At more than US$105m, California is second on the list for a variety of storm, rain, floods and fire events over the last three years. South Carolina follows at more than US$79m for severe storms, including Hurricane Matthew last October. Ohio received US$61m for damages to roads caused by landslides, heavy rain and flooding.
“Transportation is a lifeline for communities struggling to recover from floods, hurricanes or other natural disasters,” said Chao. “These funds will help with long-term, permanent repairs, as well as, immediate needs to re-establish the transportation networks on which families and businesses alike depend.”