Feds return $12.5M to Ohio in unspent road funds

The federal government is turning over more than $470 million in unspent roadwork funds to the states if they promise to use the money to repair roads and bridges and boost the economy.

The White House said state departments of transportation will be able to immediately use unspent earmarked highway funds — some of which the administration says are nearly a decade old — on eligible highway, transit, passenger rail or port projects.

Included is $12.5 million for Ohio, which was welcomed news at the Ohio Department of Transportation.

“For many years, ODOT has advocated for the flexibility to redirect unused federal earmark money, and we are pleased Washington has finally taken action on our request,” ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner said Friday. “Our job now is to identify which projects (Friday’s) announcement impacts.”

The windfall helps, but ODOT still has a $1.6 billion hole in its budget, Faulkner said.

Local projects include nearly $3 million in “unobligated balances” for U.S. 35 interchanges in Greene County and more than $140,000 for the Northwest Butler Transportation Improvement District in Butler County.

All states must identify the projects on which they plan to spend by Oct. 1, and must obligate that money by Dec. 31, the White House said.

“Particularly in these difficult fiscal times, Ohio will be able to put these dollars to good use,” Victor Mendez, Federal Highway administrator, said in a statement.

David Spinney, director of the Butler C0unty Transportation Improvement District, said the feds’ approach may be an appropriate use of unspent money. But he also believes ODOT should find out why money hasn’t been spent.

“If the monies haven’t been used and are unencumbered, I think it needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis,” Spinney said.

Greene County Engineer Robert Geyer was unavailable for comment, a staff member said. A message was left for Butler County Engineer Gregory Wilkins.

Spinney said he believed the money listed for what the federal government called the “Northwest Butler Transportation Improvement District” was for a transportation study around Oxford in Northwest Butler County.

A nationwide total of $473 million is being “turned back” back to all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, the White House said.

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