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Highway Money Dries Up, Furloughs Could Start Tuesday

Highway Money Dries Up, Furloughs Could Start Tuesday

Delays in short-term funding could cause the Department of Transportation to furlough over 4,000 employees.

Chris McConnell | GovCentral

Inaction by the Senate to pass a short-term highway funding bill may cause the Department of Transportation to furlough nearly 4,000 employees nationwide starting Tuesday.

With no extension, the Department of Transportation will cutoff payments to state highway programs as well as the Federal Transit Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These programs are paid out of the United States Highway Trust Fund, which receives revenue through taxes on highway motor fuel and truck related taxes on truck tires, sales of trucks and trailers, and heavy vehicle use. Though directed to the HTF, this money is still subject to Congressional approval.

According to Oliver B. Patton, Editor at, “Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., objected to a request for a short-term extension of the federal highway program, and then threatened a filibuster. The extension is needed to give Congress time to pass a jobs measure that includes an extension of the highway program through the end of the year.”

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) issued a statement explaining that because funding was suspended “personnel of the FHWA, FMCSA, and parts of NHTSA will be sent home, causing FHWA and FMCSA to shut down.” Over 4,000 employees could be affected.

An employee for the Department of Transportation said that they have been receiving urgent emails beginning Friday evening wondering what the ramifications will be if funding is not restored before it is set to expire at midnight on March 1st.

Bob Cesca, a featured contributor to the Huffington Post, gives a run-down of the immediate repercussions:


 No reimbursements to States for previously-committed Federal highway funds. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will not be able to approve any expenditures from the Highway Trust Fund beginning on Monday, March 1. This will prohibit FHWA from reimbursing States for any previously-committed Federal highway funds.

 No ability to commit additional Federal highway funds. Due to both a statutory prohibition and the furlough of its employees (described below), beginning on Monday, March 1, FHWA will be unable to approve States’ commitment of any Federal highway funds.

 No ability to commit additional Federal transit funds. FTA will be unable to approve any new transit grants from all transit programs that are funded out of the Highway Trust Fund. This will prohibit States, transit agencies and MPOs from receiving funds from any of the following programs: Bus and Bus Facilities, Urban and Rural Formula, Metropolitan and Statewide Planning, Fixed Guideway Modernization, Formula Grants for Elderly and Disabled, Job Access and Reverse Commute, New Freedom and Transit in the Parks.


 Shutdown of Agencies and furloughs of over 4,000 Federal employees. The entire FHWA, the entire Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA), some portions of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and some portions of the Research and Innovation Transportation Administration (RITA), will cease operations and furlough their employees (totaling over 4,000 employees) beginning on Tuesday, March 2.


ARRA “Recovery Act” Impact: Due to the furlough of FHWA employees, any remaining obligation of funds by States may not be processed. This could cause States to lose some unspent ARRA funds.

Highway Safety

 No new MCSAP or new entrant grants. The shutdown of the FMCSA will prevent the agency from entering into new obligations for its 11 grant programs and funding vouchers for work performed during the duration of the lapsed authority. In particular, two highly visible programs, the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) grants and the New Entrant grants, would be greatly affected. The MCSAP program provides funding to States to reduce the number and severity of crashes and hazardous materials incidents involving commercial motor vehicles. The New Entrant program provides funds to States to prevent unsafe motor carrier companies from entering the industry.

 All of NHTSA’s State highway safety grant programs would shut down. In addition to the furlough of its personnel, NHTSA would have to shut down operations of Highway Safety Research and Development; National Driver Register (NDR); and Highway Safety Grants, and would have to stop paying all bills for the programs under these accounts.

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