President Barack Obama’s administration said it will free states to use $473 million of unspent federal highway money for road and bridge projects to create jobs and improve U.S. infrastructure.
“My administration will continue to do everything we can to put Americans back to work,” Obama said in an e-mailed news release today. “We’re not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges.”
Obama is running for re-election with the unemployment rate at 8.3 percent. Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, says he could create 12 million U.S. jobs during the first term of his presidency.
The White House said the money was appropriated in legislation from fiscal 2003 through 2006 and was dedicated, or earmarked, by lawmakers for specific projects. Starting today, state transportation departments may use the unspent funds for highway, transit, passenger rail and port improvements, according to the White House announcement.
“We are freeing up these funds so states can get down to the business of moving transportation projects forward and putting our friends and neighbors back to work,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in the White House statement.
The funds must be spent in the states where Congress originally directed them, LaHood said in a press briefing.
The state with the largest pot of unspent money is Alabama with $51.5 million, according to a list released by the department. California is next with $43.1 million.
Wyoming is the only state or territory that had no unspent earmark funding, according to the agency.
With employment lagging, LaHood said that the agency was looking for ways to put people to work.
There were numerous reasons that the money from earmarks wasn’t spent, Chris Bertram, the agency’s chief financial officer, said at the briefing. They include projects that were blocked after environmental review, projects that cost less money than projected and states that couldn’t afford to begin construction work, Bertram said.