Feds Boost Disaster Aid for Roads
By Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer
As a record-setting year for natural disasters nears a close, Washington has come through with money for states to rebuild roads and bridges wiped out by floods, tornadoes and other calamities.
Congress recently passed a bill , signed by President Obama, to speed the delivery of transportation aid to disaster-stricken states. Meanwhile, the federal government is handing out previously budgeted money to dozens of affected states.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Monday (November 28) that it is sending $215 million of emergency relief to 34 states and three territories. That is the first step toward reducing a backlog of disaster paymethat worried officials in states, such as Vermont, that suffered heavy damage in floods and storms this year.
"Communities suffering from disasters have been hard at work restoring vital transportation links so that people can resume daily activities as soon as possible," Ray LaHood, the U.S. secretary of transportation, said in a statement . "They did their part, and now it's our turn to give the states the money they were promised to help pay for that work."
The biggest beneficiaries of the funding are California, North Dakota, Vermont and Ohio. California is still catching up with damage sustained as long ago as 1983. North Dakota is coping with widespread flooding that hit the state earlier this year. Vermont is rebuilding roads and bridges after Tropical Storm Irene soaked the state in August. Ohio is recovering from this spring's storms and landslides.
But the funding announced this week will only cover a portion of what states have asked for.
As Stateline has reported , the funding crunch forced several states to find creative ways to pay for repair projects while they wait for money from Washington. Vermont used some of its share of its normal highway maintenance money, while North Dakota is borrowing money from its own state bank.
The states' demand for aid — about $2 billion — far exceeds the total amount of money typically set aside to rebuild roads damaged by disasters every year. Last month, Congress set aside nearly $1.7 billion to catch up on those requests for help, and President Obama approved the amount. A spokeswoman for the Federal Highway Administration said that money will reduce the backlog. But states continue to file more claims, so it may not be enough to completely eliminate the wait.
One reason the backlog grew so large is that 2011 has had a record number of disaster declarations signed by the president. With a month left to go, this year's total of 97 disasters eclipses the previous record for an entire year of 81. The previous record was set just last year.