Program Review: Transportation Infrastructure

This report, the latest in a series responding to the Act's mandate, updates and adds new information on the use of Recovery Act funds by transportation infrastructure programs. The Department of Transportation (DOT) provides these funds for investment in existing aviation, highway, rail, and transit programs, and for newly competitive grant programs.

What GAO Found

The Recovery Act provided more than $48 billion for transportation investments in early 2009 and stipulated that most funds be obligated by September 30, 2010. The act targeted the majority of those funds to be channeled through existing aviation, highway, rail, and transit programs. Some funds were provided for newly funded competitive grant programs, including the Federal Railroad Administration's high speed intercity passenger rail program and the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, which is administered by the Office of the Secretary of Transportation.

Most Transportation Funds Have Been Obligated and Expenditures for Infrastructure Continue to Increase, but Long-Term Outcomes Are Largely Unknown

As of May 31, 2011, nearly $45 billion (about 95 percent) of Recovery Act transportation funds had been obligated for over 15,000 projects nationwide, and more than $28 billion had been expended. Recipients continue to report using Recovery Act funds to improve the nation's transportation infrastructure. Highway funds have been primarily used for pavement improvement projects, and transit funds have been primarily used to upgrade transit facilities and purchase buses. Recovery Act funds have also been used to rehabilitate airport runways and improve Amtrak's infrastructure. The Recovery Act helped fund transportation jobs, but long-term benefits are unclear. For example, according to recipient reported data, transportation projects supported between approximately 31,460 and 65,110 full-time equivalents (FTE) quarterly from October 2009 through March 2011. Officials reported other benefits, including improved coordination among federal, state, and local officials. However, the impact of Recovery Act investments in transportation is unknown, and GAO has recommended that DOT determine the data needed to assess the impact of these investments.

Federal, State, and Local Auditors Continue to Review Use of Recovery Act Funds and No Major Issues Have Been Reported

Federal, state, and local oversight entities continue their efforts to ensure the appropriate use of Recovery Act transportation funds, and recent reviews revealed no major concerns. The DOT Inspector General found that DOT generally complied with Recovery Act aviation, highway, and rail program requirements. Similarly, state and local oversight entities' performance reviews and audits generally did not find problems with the use of Recovery Act transportation funds.

Analysis of Recipient Reporting Data Shows Data Quality Remains Relatively Stable

GAO's analysis of data reported by transportation grant recipients showed that the number of FTEs reported, number of recipients filing reports, and portion of recipients reporting any FTEs decreased over the past two reporting quarters as an increasing number of projects approached completion or were awaiting financial closeout. The Federal Highway Administration performs automated checks to help ensure the validity of recipient reported data and observed fewer data quality issues than in previous quarters but does not plan to use the data internally.

Recovery Act Requirements Proved Challenging for DOT and Some States, Leading to Several Lessons Learned

Certain Recovery Act provisions proved challenging. For example, DOT and states faced numerous challenges in implementing the maintenance-of-effort requirement, which required states to maintain their planned level of spending or be ineligible to participate in the August 2011 redistribution of obligation authority under the Federal-Aid Highway Program. In January 2011, DOT reported that 29 states met the requirement while 21 states did not because of reductions in dedicated revenues for transportation, among other reasons. The economically distressed area provision also proved difficult to implement because of changing economic conditions. With regard to the high speed intercity passenger rail and TIGER grant programs, GAO found that while DOT generally followed recommended grant-making practices, DOT could have better documented its award decisions.

GAO's RecommendationsBack to top

GAO updates the status of agencies' efforts to implement its previous recommendations but is making no new recommendations in this report.

Full Report

June 29, 2011

Recovery Act: Funding Used for Transportation Infrastructure Projects, but Some Requirements Proved Challenging
Recovery Act: Funds Supported Many Water Projects, and Federal and State Monitoring Shows Few Compliance Problems