GAO: Highway Bridges: Major Projects Present Challenges for States, but Strategies Exist to Overcome Them
Over 600,000 bridges carry the nation's passenger car, bus and commercial vehicle traffic over waterways, highways, and railways. Large bridges are typically located on heavily used highways and some are in need of repair or replacement, which can be resource intensive. In addition, the nation's surface transportation system is under growing strain and funding it is on GAO's High Risk list.
The condition of the nation's “large bridges”—defined as those that make up the top 1 percent of bridges in deck area (the surface area that carries vehicles)—has improved since 2007, based on GAO analysis of federal bridge data. From 2007 through 2016, the percentage of deck area on those bridges that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) identified as structurally deficient (i.e., one or more components of the bridge is in poor condition) declined from 11.2 to 7.5 percent. Report.
DOT OIG: Vulnerabilities Exist in Implementing Initiatives Under MAP-21 Subtitle C To Accelerate Project Delivery
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act of 2012 (MAP-21) was the first long-term surface transportation authorization enacted since 2005. The act’s Subtitle C requires DOT to implement initiatives to accelerate delivery of projects funded by FHWA and FTA, and to report to Congress on the initiatives’ progress. In 2015, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) reauthorized and changed some of the MAP-21 initiatives.
DOT OIG: FHWA Needs To Strengthen Its Oversight of State Transportation Improvement Programs
Each year, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides about $40 billion in Federal funding to States for construction and improvements to the Nation’s highways and bridges. To ensure that States appropriately plan and budget for the use of these funds and meet Federal requirements Congress requires each State to submit to its FHWA Division Office and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Regional Office, a Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) that lists and describes each project that the State and metropolitan planning organizations plan to implement over a 4-year period.
Based on a sample of FHWA Division Offices, we determined that FHWA’s Guidance does not provide sufficient detail for STIP reviews in certain areas. Furthermore, FHWA Headquarters’ oversight process is not sufficient to routinely determine how well the Divisions ensure that the States comply with certain STIP requirements. Report.
DOT OIG: FHWA Does Not Effectively Ensure States Account for Preliminary Engineering Costs and Reimburse Funds as Required
FHWA does not effectively account for Federal highway and bridge funds used for PE. Specifically, the four FHWA Division Offices we reviewed do not effectively assess whether States’ systems and processes accurately account for PE projects. In addition, FHWA lacks effective controls and practices to promote transparent and accurate accounting for PE projects. For example, States incorrectly coded non-PE projects as PE in FHWA’s financial information database. Based on these results, OIG projects that Division Offices approved approximately $3.1 billion in Federal PE expenditures (8 percent of total PE expenditures) for non-PE highway and bridge projects nationwide. Report.
GAO: Highway Trust Fund: Administrative Expenses of the Federal Highway Administration
GAO found that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) functions funded by administrative monies from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) include (1) general operating expenses (salaries and benefits, equipment, travel, and other expenses); (2) transfers to the Appalachian Regional Commission; and (3) specific programs consisting of the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, Highway Use Tax Evasion, On-the-Job Training Support Services, Consolidation of Programs (Operation Lifesaver, Public Road Safety Clearinghouse, Work Zone Safety Grants, and National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse), and Air Quality and Congestion Mitigation Measure Outcomes Assessment Study. Report.
DOT OIG: Highway Trust Fund: DOT Has Opportunities to Improve Tracking and Reporting of Highway Spending
In recent years, dedicated revenues to the Highway Trust Fund have been eroding, resulting in fewer resources to fund surface transportation projects and requiring, between 2008 and 2014, transfers of over $50 billion in general revenues. Four operating administrations within DOT—FHWA, FTA, NHTSA, and FMCSA—receive funding from the Highway Trust Fund for programs administered by these agencies, and FHWA receives the largest share (81 percent of the agency’s authorizations in fiscal year 2013).
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) obligated about $41 billion in fiscal year 2013, most of which ($39 billion) was apportioned to states through the federal-aid highway program. FHWA tracks federal-aid highway program obligations in its Fiscal Management Information System (FMIS), for individual project segments or contracts. While FHWA tracks and reports aggregate obligations for its “major projects” (projects with a total cost of $500 million or more), it does not collect and report aggregate obligations for other projects, which represented nearly 88 percent of all fiscal year 2013 spending.
This report examines what is known about the types of projects, activities, and federal administrative functions and expenses supported by DOT using Highway Trust Fund monies in fiscal year 2013. Report.
DOT OIG: Highway Trust Fund Obligations, Fiscal Years 2009 to 2011
During fiscal years 2009 through 2011, four administrations within DOT obligated about $144 billion from the HTF. FHWA obligated the largest share--about 81 percent--of this total. Report.
FHWA obligated $116.7 billion from the HTF. A majority--about 81 percent--was obligated to construct and maintain highways and bridges. The remainder was obligated for other purposes such as safety, debt service, traffic management and planning and utilities, and for transportation enhancements.
FTA obligated about $24 billion--about 17 percent of the total obligations--from the HTF, almost all of it through grants to local and state transit agencies and governments to provide transit service, including grants for capital projects, planning, and operating assistance.
NHTSA obligated about $1.9 billion from the HTF mostly in safety grants to states and localities.
FMCSA obligated about $1.6 billion from the HTF for motor carrier safety grants to states and localities and to support their efforts to enforce federal commercial motor carrier safety standards.
DOT OIG: Highway Infrastructure: Federal-State Partnership Produces Benefits and Poses Oversight Risks
Over the years, the federal-aid highway program has expanded to encompass broader goals, more responsibilities, and a variety of approaches. As the program grew more complex, the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) oversight role also expanded, while its resources have not kept pace. As GAO has reported, this growth occurred without a well-defined overall vision of evident national interests and the federal role in achieving them. GAO has recommended Congress consider restructuring federal surface transportation programs, and for this and other reasons, funding surface transportation remains on GAO’s high-risk list.
GAO observed cases where FHWA was lax in its oversight or reluctant to take corrective action to bring states back into compliance with federal requirements, potentially resulting in improper or ineffective use of federal funds. For example, while FHWA has made it a national priority to recoup funds from inactive highway projects—projects that have not expended funds for over 1 year—FHWA officials in three states we visited were reluctant to do so because of concerns about harming their partnership with the state. In other cases, FHWA has shown a lack of independence in decisions, putting its partners’ interests above federal interests. For example, FHWA allowed two states to retain unused emergency relief allocations to fund new emergencies, despite FHWA’s policy that these funds are made available to other states with potentially higher-priority emergencies. Report.