Del.'s Federal Infrastructure Funding Uncertain - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del.'s Federal Infrastructure Funding Uncertain

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DOVER, Del. (AP) - Delaware, like other states, has seen federal highway funding decrease in recent years, which officials say makes careful planning and financial management critical in building and maintaining roads.

With Congress unable to agree on a long-term highway funding plan, Delaware saw its Federal Highway Trust Fund apportionment decline in fiscal 2013 to $168.9 million. That's down from a 10-year peak of $200 million in 2010 and the lowest amount since the $166.9 million figure in fiscal 2005.

Nationwide, the total amount of Federal Highway Trust Fund money available to the states was down 3.5 percent in 2013 compared to 2008, slightly less than the 3.7 percent decline for Delaware.

"The uncertainty that exists around the continuation and size of apportionments to the states inhibits improved highway safety, economic growth and job creation in Delaware and around the country," Delaware transportation secretary Jennifer Cohan said in an email.

Cohan told members of the legislature's budget-writing committee this month that federal funding remains a challenge as the state faces a $780 million deficit for capital projects over the next six years, including $600 million in delayed projects and $180 million needed to keep roads and bridges in good repair.

Compounding the problem of uncertainty in federal funding, state funding for transportation projects also has declined steadily since 2012, with an estimated $136.4 million available for the fiscal year starting in July.

"We manage a lot tighter than we did before," said Earle Timpson, assistant director of finance for the Delaware Department of Transportation. "We constantly are monitoring our cash flows."

"Our job is to manage our improvement and maximize the use of the federal funds every year so we don't give any money back," he added.

In addition to reducing DelDOT's overall debt burden and debt service payments in recent years to free up cash, officials also established a $50 million revolving line of credit in fiscal 2014 to mitigate federal payments risk.

"It's there as a stopgap.... It hasn't been drawn on yet," Timpson noted.

Meanwhile, efforts to boost funding on the state level remain a challenge. Transportation officials imposed higher weekend tolls last year, and lawmakers have approved higher vehicle sales taxes and registration fees in recent years, which has helped generate much needed revenue.

"We are selling cars like crazy in Delaware," Cohan told lawmakers, noting that vehicle fees are expected to surpass toll revenues as a primary source of revenue for the state's transportation trust fund by fiscal 2018.

But lawmakers balked last year at Democratic Gov. Jack Markell's proposal to raise Delaware's gas tax by 10 cents a gallon and to increase borrowing by $50 million a year to pay for $500 million in additional spending on roads and bridges in Delaware over five years. Stung by the bipartisan opposition to his election-year proposal, Markell declined to make any proposal to bolster the state's transportation trust fund this year, instead inviting lawmakers to present their own suggestions.

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