WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Friday that Georgia can use $11 million in unspent earmark funds on any project the state desires, but it must spend the money this year or risk losing it.
Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden said the state will review the list of projects, assigned by Congress from 2003 to 2006, and decide whether the existing project can or should be completed by the Dec. 31 deadline or whether the funds would be better spent elsewhere.
"The Department will ensure that all funds are used to build badly needed transportation projects," Golden said in a statement.
In all there are 16 earmarks in Georgia identified by the federal DOT for which the money has not been spent, totaling $11,045,955.76. The biggest project on the list is $2.97 million for the rail facilities and corridor in Hapeville, near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Also on the list are about $492,000 for bicycle and pedestrian safety at DeKalb County schools and $495,000 for an upgrade to Semmes Street in East Point.
The $473 million nationwide announcement was billed as part of President Barack Obama's "We Can't Wait" series of executive actions to aid the economy while bypassing a gridlocked Congress. The jobs bill Obama introduced last year — which included $100 billion in transportation spending, funded by a surtax on millionaires — went nowhere on Capitol Hill.
"My administration will continue to do everything we can to put Americans back to work," Obama said in a statement. "We're not going to let politics stand between construction workers and good jobs repairing our roads and bridges."
On a conference call with reporters, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the timing of the announcement — in the midst of a heated presidential campaign season — had nothing to do with politics. He said after the department finished distributing all the money from the 2009 stimulus law it started looking for other ways to free up money for the states and came upon this idea.
The money comes from earmarks in federal spending bills. Congress last year banned the practice of directing money to specific projects amid criticism of wasteful spending and corruption.
States have until Oct. 1 to identify the projects on which they will spend the money and until the end of the year to assign the funds. Leftover money from states that miss the deadline will be redistributed to the states that did spend it.
The projects "need to be shovel-ready," LaHood said. "We want people to go to work now, and we want the states to spend the money as quickly as they can.
"We have to sign off on the projects, but we're not going to take forever to do that, and we'll work with governors and the states to make sure that this money can get out the door and get spent and people can go to work."