Utah Makes Good Use of Transportation Enhancements Funding; Idaho Does Not

By Charles Pekow

Transportation Enhancements (TE) took a major hit last year as states were forced to return to the federal treasury $2.2 billion in surface transportation money in August 2010. But Utah protected its funding, unlike most other states. The figures are reported in the annual Transportation Enhancements Spending Report: Analysis of the States' Use of Federal Funding put out by the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse.

States returned almost $580 million from Enhancements. And states also were scared to commit to new projects considering that the program's future is uncertain as it is up for reauthorization and House Republicans have indicated they may want to kill the earmark, cut transportation funding, and just let states decide what to do with their federal highway money – which may mean they spend none on bike-related projects.

Since its inception in 1992, TE has been the largest source of federal aid for bicycle projects.

Utah proved kinder to the program than most states last year. Faced with returning federal money, Utah can count itself as one only 12 states that didn't cut its TE, which amounted to slightly less than $8 million, Nationally, states rescinded 21 percent of TE funds, which amounted to 26 percent of what they returned. Idaho, on the other hand, sent back about $7.5 million in TE, 44 percent of what it cut and 31 percent of its TE allotment.

Historically, Utah has done better than most states in terms of getting the money obligated quickly. (Unlike most other federal grant programs, TE grantees must spend their own money first, then get reimbursed for it.) Still, at the end of the year, the Utah Department of Transportation retained about $2.3 million in TE funds left to obligate. Nationally, states still had almost $1.2 billion unobligated. Idaho had committed all its available cash that it didn't return.

Since the program's inception, Utah as funded 196 TE projects averaging $422,000 in federal funds, while Idaho has funded 160, averaging almost $53,000.

Both states, however, have trailed the national average match rate of 29 percent, with Utah only putting up 10 percent and Idaho 19 percent. Utah is allowed a lower match rate than most states because of the large federal land ownership – but there's nothing in the law that would prevent the state, localities and the private sector from contributing more than they do.

For details, see http://www.enhancements.org/download/Spending_Report/TE_Spending_Report_FY10.pdf.

Note: the clearinghouse is partially funded by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, of which I am a member.

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