Transportation Infrastructure:

States Benefit From Block Grant Flexibility

RCED-90-126: Published: Jun 8, 1990. Publicly Released: Jun 8, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed five states' experiences in participating in the Federal Highway Administration's (FHwA) Combined Road Plan Demonstration Program, focusing on: (1) how states benefited from the plan's funding flexibility; (2) the plan's administrative advantages; and (3) how states' administration of the Federal-Aid Highway Program compared with federal program administration.

GAO found that: (1) the ability to use pooled funds enabled three states to target funds toward higher-priority highway and bridge needs, but states would like the program expanded to include funds from other highway programs; (2) the demonstration gave states the latitude to determine where and how they would spend selected federal funds, but certain legislative restrictions remained tied to the pooled funds; (3) Congress enacted spending requirements to ensure a minimum amount of state funding to certain systems or areas, and state officials believed that having to comply with those limitations inhibited their ability to target pooled funds to their priority needs; (4) states also benefited by saving time and paperwork because of streamlined processes for approving, implementing, and completing federal aid projects; (5) states established a review process for exception requests that met FHwA approval, but since design exception approvals relied heavily on judgment, the impact of states' safety activities depended upon a qualitative assessment of actual state decisions; and (6) FHwA officials believed that there was little safety risk in having the states perform final inspections, but believed states needed to strengthen their final inspection process to prevent negative safety impacts.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of late 1991, Congress was considering reauthorization of the federal-aid highway enabling legislation. Whether the reauthorization legislation enacted during the first session of the 102nd Congress was unclear at that time. When Congress reauthorized surface transportation programs in late 1991, it did not provide for an extension or renewal of the Combined Road Demonstration Program.

    Matter: To maximize the funding and administrative flexibility provided by the Combined Road Plan demonstration program and to more closely approximate the block grant concept, Congress may wish to consider: (1) removing some or all of the title 23 legislative restrictions attendant to the use of funds eligible for the demonstration; and (2) expanding the list of eligible programs for the demonstration.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FHwA headquarters directed its affected field offices to conduct reviews of final inspection and design exception decisions on a sample of projects. These reviews have now been completed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to evaluate, on a test basis, the impact of states' actions on safety by evaluating the appropriateness of states' final inspection and design exception decisions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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