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The Obama administration is making nearly half a billion dollars in unspent highway funds available to states that promise to use the money to create jobs and improve transportation.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Friday that more than $470 million will be made immediately available for projects such as repairing crumbling roads and bridges.
The move is part of President Barack Obama’s election-year effort to sidestep Congress with programs that Obama says will create jobs. Obama has adopted the slogan “We Can’t Wait” to contrast his efforts with congressional Republicans, who have balked at many of his plans.
At a time when one in five construction workers is out of work, “we can’t wait any longer,” LaHood said. “It’s about time we put these idle funds to use.”
The money initially was allocated to the Transportation Department for special projects known as earmarks from 2003 to 2006. The Republican-controlled House has since banned earmarks, which are provisions tucked into spending bills for lawmakers’ pet projects.
Obama has vowed to veto any bill that includes earmarks and has supported efforts by both parties to permanently ban the practice.
But LaHood said money awarded by previous Congresses should be spent to improve the nation’s highways, transit systems and ports. Instead of letting the money sit idle, it should be used to put Americans back to work and repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, he said.
“The president has made it very clear: He’s not for earmarks. So we’re taking earmark money, giving it back to the states,” where governors and other local officials can figure out how to spend it, LaHood said.
“Our goal at the Department of Transportation, and the president’s goal, is to get as many people as possible back to work,” LaHood said.
Under the Transportation Department plan, states will be notified about how much money they have left over from earlier projects that were not completed or cost less than expected. The states then can apply to use the money for new projects or to complete older projects.
States must identify how the funds will be used by Oct. 1.
Every state except Wyoming has unspent transportation money, LaHood said