DOT should collect more data on smaller road and bridge projects, GAO recommends

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 10/10/2014

Tracking every penny spent on highway and bridge projects remains crucial to keeping the Highway Trust Fund in good standing, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office says DOT agencies can do better to track smaller, less expensive projects.

In a report published Thursday, Oct. 9, the GAO points out that the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, which doles out and oversees road and bridge money, collects all sorts of data on the largest of projects – especially those costing in excess of $500 million.

The FHWA should also be tracking data and spending for smaller projects, the authors of the report insist in their recommendations to the administration.

U.S. DOT agencies spent about $41 billion in 2013, with $39 billion of that going to states through the federal-aid highway program.

According to the GAO, the Federal Highway Administration uses a tracking program called the Fiscal Management Information System to collect, aggregate and report data for the largest projects.

Projects costing more than $500 million make up just 12 percent of total federal-aid highway and bridge projects. The GAO points this out in its recommendation that the FHWA plug the other 88 percent of projects – the smaller ones – into its tracking program.

In response, the Department of Transportation agrees with the GAO’s findings and will explore the costs, feasibility and options for reporting the financial data on all projects.

The GAO takes the opportunity to point out that federal fuel taxes, which are the main source of revenue for projects, have not increased since 1993 and have lost much of their buying power due to inflation.

Fuel efficiency, a decline in miles traveled, and other factors have contributed to an overall decline in money coming into the Highway Trust Fund.

The money paid in by truckers through fuel taxes, user fees and taxes on new equipment purchases make up about more than 30 percent of the money going into the Highway Trust Fund despite the fact that trucks make up less than 10 percent of the driving population.

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