Extreme Weather Events in 2011 Costing Federal Highway Officials Hundreds of Millions

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Spring 2011 floods damaged a bridge in Ryegate, Montana (photo by MontanaTom1950 via Flickr)

(Billings, MT-YPR) When  U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will provide more than $215 million in aid for storm-ravaged roads and bridges, the press release only hinted at the damage caused this year by extreme weather events:  tornadoes, hurricanes, record heat, and flooding.

In Montana alone, record snowfall, mountain snowpack, and spring rains meant an historic flood year. In mid-September, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials had identified nearly 1,500 public infrastructure projects, totaling nearly $50 million.

2011 is emerging as a record year for disasters. According to the Pew Center's stateline.org, about 39 states are awaiting money to repair storm damaged roads, bridges and other public infrastructure. Some of that request was to the FHWA, for which Congress allocates up to $100 million a year.

(For a related story on climate change and transit costs, click here.)

“Communities suffering from disasters have been hard at work restoring vital transportation links so people can resume daily activities soon as possible,” says LaHood. “They did their part, and now it’s our turn to give the states the money they were promised to help pay for that work.”

Lynn Zanto of the Montana Department of Transportation estimated costs to the state from this spring’s flooding at $36 million. The state’s reimbursement from FHWA, which will help repair bridges and roads, is just over $2.56 million.

“Although this may seem like a small amount compared to our overall costs, we’re still very appreciative to our (Congressional) delegation, (and) Secretary LaHood,” Zanto said in a press release. “We do our best to make every dollar count and we’ll keep our fingers crossed and remain hopeful that we’ll see future reimbursements to help mitigate the impacts from the spring floods.”

Those projects would have to initially be paid for by local governments; reimbursement requests would be submitted to FEMA. The FHWA emergency relief money is only to repair or rebuild federal-aid highways and or roads located on federal land.

MDT’s Lynn Zanto says the agency worked quickly to restore the flow of traffic to flood damaged roads and bridges. She says this includes a South Central Montana bridge off of Interstate 94 that was damaged by flooding.

She says funding for that work came from the agency’s program fund that would otherwise pay for planned highway projects, which were put on temporary hold.

Of the $215 million in federal aid, California received the largest amount at $43 million. North Dakota follows at $31.5 million, and Vermont will receive just over $15 million.

The allocation is the second this year for the Federal Highway Administration, which also distributed $319 million for aid in April.   But those disbursements don’t match 2006 and 2007 disbursements for Hurricane Katrina damage.

Also extremely expensive for the FWHA: 2004 and 2005 disbursements for California, which cost in excess of $300 million each.