Through the RTPA Group, Caltrans solicited questions from the local agencies on implementation of the Federal Economic Recovery Program, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) signed by President Obama on February 17, 2009. The questions were then forwarded to appropriate agencies, or divisions within Caltrans for response. The majority of the questions are presented here as-asked, with a few modified to take out specific reference to location to apply more broadly. FHWA has recently issued ARRA Implementing Guidance, which provides detailed instruction on the implementation of ARRA. Caltrans continues to receive questions from local agencies. We will periodically provide updates as more information becomes available. The questions and answers are categorized into Programming, Project Eligibility, Environmental Process, and Project Authorization topics areas.
Question 1: How quickly will FHWA/Caltrans commit to approving the initial FTIP amendment, the subsequent administrative amendment, and any subsequent formal amendments?
Answer 1: FHWA's response: FHWA will approve amendments submitted by Caltrans to align MPO programming targets with additional revenues from the Economic Recovery program as quickly as possible. While FHWA typically requests 30 days to provide adequate review time for amendments, since we will already have reviewed the contents of these amendments prior to submittal, we are confident that our action could take place within 10 days.
Caltrans' response: MPOs have been instructed to process initial amendments to add the Economic Recovery Revenue to their FTIPs. Once these amendments are received by Caltrans, they will be processed and sent to FHWA within 2 days of receipt. Processing priority will be given to those amendments that add revenues only. Amendments that include changes aside from adding revenues will be processed as quickly as possible. The processing time will vary depending on the number of changes within the amendment and its completeness and accuracy. Our target is to process these amendments and any administrative modifications within two weeks of receipt.
Question 2: Why can't MPO program the Economic Stimulus (ES) projects now and place within the third year of our FTIP (where funds can reasonably be expected to be available, but need not be committed). In this way, all that is left for the MPO to do is approve the administrative amendment once the ES is signed?
Answer 2: There is no reason to program projects within the third year. New guidance from FHWA considers the Economic Recovery funds as available and committed and therefore can be included in the first year.
Question 3: One of the early documents stated that the projects must already be in the FTIP, STIP, or MTIP; however we do not include asphalt overlays, maintenance and rehabilitation projects, or most of our local projects without federal funding in any of the TIP programs. Is this still a requirement? And if it is, how can a local agency utilize these funds on projects like asphalt overlays that are not typically included in any of the TIPs?
Answer 3: ARRA requires that all federal regulation be followed for projects funded with the ARRA funds, including FTIP listing requirement. If the projects that your agency plans to use the Economic Recovery funds are not already in an approved FTIP, now is the time to work with you RTPA/MPO to amend the projects in. A project may be included in the FTIP either as an individually listed project or as a part of grouped projects, depending on the scale and type of project activity. Adding a project to a grouped listing may be processed administratively which takes less time than formal FTIP amendments.
Question 4: Why can’t MPO Boards approve the formal amendment immediately but contingent on the ES being approved. Once the ES is approved, it is immediately ready for processing by Caltrans and FHWA?
Answer 4: FHWA's most recent guidance allows for the MPO Board approvals, State recommendations and FHWA/FTA approval of the formal amendment to occur prior to the enactment of the Economic Recovery legislation.
Question 5: Will all the funds go through Regional agencies, or will a third, as has been rumored, go directly to Cities and Counties?
Answer 5: At this point, it has not been decided how funds will be distributed within the State, except what has been required to be suballocated by the ARRA.
Question 6: How will the funding be disbursed and administered?
Answer 6: RRA requires that 30% of the federal economic recovery funds apportioned to the state be suballocated using the Surface Transportation Program (STP) distribution formula by population, 3% be set aside for Transportation Enhancement (TE) activities, remaining 67% may be distributed at the discretion of the state. At this point it is not clear how the 67% funding will be distributed within the state of California.
Question 7: Small regions (under 200k) currently exchange STP dollars and have no STP procedures. Can these regions spend the Federal STP dollars without having regionally adopted STP guidelines and procedures?
Answer 7: Waiting response from RTPA.
Question 8: How is it possible that another state was able to authorize their project within moments of the President signing the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, while we have several projects waiting to construct, three of which are bridge replacement projects funded by FHWA. It has taken us years to comply with environmental requirements, the California Coastal Commission, right-of-way acquisition, plan preparation and bidding. What are we missing or need to do?
Answer 8: Before FHWA make apportionment available to the states, which FHWA made on March 2, 2009, a state is not able to authorize project for stimulus funding. NEPA process for some federal-aid projects can be quite lengthy, especially for bridge projects. ARRA does not provide any relief from existing federal regulations. If you have project specific questions, please contact your District Local Assistance Engineer.
Question 9: Does a project have to be on a specific list for approval to be considered eligible? Such as RTIP, SANBAG, RCTC, STPL, HSIPL, PNRSL, etc.?
Answer 9: Each MPO and/or RTPA may have its own list of projects it plans to fund with the economic stimulus funds. However, before any project can receive federal stimulus funding, it will ultimately have to be included in an approved FTIP.
Question 10: What types of rehabilitation projects are not federally eligible?
Answer 10: Roadway rehabilitation projects on streets classified as "local road" and "rural minor collector" are NOT eligible for federal funding. Your DLAE will be able to help you to determine the functional classification of the road you propose to rehabilitate. FHWA also prescribes minimum design standards that need to be met. Consult Caltrans Local Assistance Procedures Manual for details.
Question 11: We have a bridge here over the Colorado River in Needles that is suffering from upstream pier scouring and needs to be repaired. That project would be in conjunction with Arizona Department of Transportation. Would that project qualify for implementation of the Economic Recovery Bill?
Answer 11: There are two points to the response to this question. First, counter measures for bridge scour is eligible for funding under the Economic Recovery funding. Second, since the project will involve two state DOTs, Caltrans and ADOT, you will need be aware that it will take extra time to get a multi-state project delivered.
Question 12: Many of the rural projects will be Rehab. Will we be able to use Force Account labor?
Answer 12: Federal regulations allow use of Force Account ONLY for emergency situation or with demonstrable cost saving over the standard competitive bidding by contractors.
Question 13: If a project was previously obligated by FHWA using other federal funds, can stimulus funds be used to pay for a cost increase, either due to higher than anticipated contract award, or due to change orders beyond the approved contingency?
Answer 13: According to FHWA's ARRA Implementing Guidance, if a project that has already been authorized, let, and is under construction using non-ARRA Federal funding, ARRA funding may be used to fund a subsequent construction change order on the project. The change order may be funded with ARRA funds as long as the change order results in additional costs that are above the already committed State/Federal funds for the project. ARRA funds are only eligible for change order costs incurred after the date that the funds are obligated to the project. Caution should be used in exercising this option, since the project will be encumbered with all reporting requirements associated with all ARRA projects.
Question 14: We have a number of City streets that are in dire need of reconstruction. These streets need to have the pavement milled and replaced. We also have some sewer and water systems that need to be upgraded. These projects do not require extensive engineering designs. Would funds be available for these types of projects?
Answer 14: Road rehabilitation projects on Federal-aid routes are eligible for federal funding. Sewer and Water Systems are not transportation projects and are thus not eligible for federal-aid highway funding.
Question 15: Will the Economic Recovery Bill also include funding for work on local roads (non Fed-Aid Roads)?
Answer 15: Generally speaking, roadway works on local roads that are not on the federal-aid routes are not eligible for federal-aid highway funding. Exceptions are bridge replacement or rehabilitation off the federal-aid system, bicycle or pedestrian projects funded with Transportation Enhancement (TE) or Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds off the federal-aid systems. Therefore, eligibility for stimulus funding of projects on local roads will depend on the type of project.
Question 16: Can we use Stimulus money as our local match to other federal funds (i.e. – HBP, HES, HRRR, etc..)?
Answer 16: No. The federal economic recovery funds can not be used as match to other federal funds, such as HBP, HSIP, ect.
Question 17: Will the stimulus include funding for non-infrastructure projects such as FHWA Safe Routes to School?
Answer 17: Safety projects are eligible for stimulus funds.
Question 18: Road rehab. projects would be to repair and overlay existing roads. The work would not widen existing pavement. We would need this expedited process in order to make the projected time frames for use of the RSTP funds going to the regions.
Answer 18: See answer to Question 29. Caltrans is developing measures to expedite approval of all projects receiving federal economic recovery funding.
Question 19: Will NEPA approval be required for simple road widening projects, or will the City's standard CEQA process suffice?
Answer 19: Any projects proposed for federal funding will need a NEPA approval and federal permits, if appropriate. However, most projects are Categorically Excluded and Caltrans can quickly process the CE form if they have enough project information.
Question 20: If NEPA is required, will Caltrans environmental conduct an expedited review process so we will be eligible on these obviously minimal impact widening projects?
Answer 20: Widening projects which increase capacity would require at least an Environmental Assessment / FONSI. If the widening is just to add shoulders, and there are not other complications with right of way or permit issues, the project is most likely Categorically Excluded under NEPA, and Caltrans can process those quickly once they have an adequate project description.
Question 21: We have some projects that were not anticipating any federal funds and therefore did not have a NEPA document. We do have an EIR and full CEQA compliance. IF we have to perform a new NEPA document, it would preclude us from awarding within 90 days. Will CEQA compliance be acceptable or will NEPA compliance be required?
Answer 21: ARRA does not waive any federal environmental requirements. Therefore, CEQA will not be allowed to substitute for NEPA. Please also note that federal regulations prohibit starting final design activities prior to completion of NEPA document.
Question 22: Again, considering many Rehab projects are within existing right of way, under CEQA, they most likely will be Cat Ex. Since Caltrans has delegation authority for NEPA. How will they be able to process these Cat Excl in a timely manner? How well is Caltrans prepared to process these projects without becoming totally bogged down?
Answer 22: Most CEQA CEs are also NEPA CEs. They can be processed in as little as a week if Caltrans has adequate project information and there are no critical path issues such as endangered species, historic properties or other federal permits.
Question 23: We would like to know if relaxation of some of the requirements of NEPA is open for consideration in order to move projects forward quickly such as a reduction in the number of reviews by various agencies, reduction in time for the reviews or a reduction in the various studies in areas that have been constantly studied over and over again through some type of minimal review.
Answer 23: ARRA does not relax any federal requirements. However, Caltrans is unique in the nation in that it has near full delegation from FHWA for FHWA environmental responsibilities, removing the need to send documents through FHWA for approval. The delegation also allows Caltrans to deal with Federal regulatory agencies directly. This greatly reduces processing time, but does not remove any federal requirement.
Question 24: Will Caltrans process Field Review requests and PES forms if we submit them now?
Answer 24: Yes, if you are certain that your project will be funded by the economic recovery funds, please contact your DLAE to coordinate the field review and PES form.
Question 25: It'd be good to get clarity on "obligate" both from an FHWA and FTA vantage.
Answer 25: The term "Obligate" means the same thing both from FHWA and FTA perspective. When FHWA or FTA obligates federal funds under an agreement with the state or local agency, it obliges the federal government to make a payment when requested by the state.
Question 26: I understand that, depending on the bill version, the terms “award” and “obligate” are being used. What are the specific meanings, in the contexts of the respective bills, of those terms?
Answer 26: The enacted legislation ARRA provided certain deadline for obligation of the federal stimulus funds. When FHWA executes the E-76 agreement, it obligates the federal funds for the project. Local agencies will be notified by Caltrans' District Local Assistance Engineer (DLAE) of the execution of the E-76. Although ARRA does not specify a deadline for contract award, it requires that "recipients shall give priority to projects that can be completed within three years of enactment of this Act". An enactment of the Act means when the President signs the Act.
Question 27: Are the time limits (on either “award” or “obligate”) based on the date of the President’s signature on the bill, or the actual distribution of funds, or approval of lists of projects.
Answer 27: The final wording used in ARRA is “obligate”. It requires that ARRA funding be obligated within one year of the states receiving apportionment from FHWA, except that not less than 50% of the funding distributed to the state not by population shall be obligated within 120 days of receiving apportionment from FHWA.
Question 28: What is the mechanism for authorizing the funding and how will we be notified? Is it 90 days from when we are notified or 90 days from when the bill is signed?
Answer 28: All requests for authorizing Federal-aid highway funds from local agencies are received and processed by Caltrans District Local Assistance Engineers through Headquarters Division of Local Assistance. The Local Assistance Procedures Manual lists all the necessary steps towards getting a project authorized. You can browse or download this manual from the Publication part of this website. For the second part of the question, the deadline to use at least 50% of the ARRA funding apportioned to the state that are not suballocated by population is 120 days to obligate from the date when FHWA makes apportionment to the state, which is expected to happen during that week of March 2, 2009.
Question 29: Can Caltrans and FHWA develop an expedited process to approve PES and E-76 approval for local on-system road rehabilitation projects?
Answer 29: Given the timely use of funds provisions in the economic recovery legislations and the short timeframe to obligate the funds, both Caltrans and FHWA are looking at ways to expedite the E-76 approval process for all projects, including road rehab projects. If the local agencies have specific projects targeted for receiving the economic recovery funds, they can start working with the DLAEs to initiate the environmental document, such as PES, now. For most of the road rehab projects, the environmental documents may be processed as Categorical Exclusion (CE) and can be approved relatively quickly.
Question 30: We are preparing project schedules. Has Caltrans established a turnaround target for paperwork submitted? This will help us to schedule our staff assignments.
Answer 30: Caltrans is committed to expeditiously process projects funded with the federal recovery funds. For planning purposes, assuming a 2-3 week approval time from when Caltrans receives a complete request package will be reasonable. Actual project approval turnaround will depend on the completeness of the request package, and the amount of workload. The key to a quick turnaround is the close coordination with your DALE to provide a complete request for authorization package.
Question 31: Since “formal field review” is only required for Emergency Storm Damage or for major projects (>$10M), can we use informal field review procedures (no site inspection) to document the project scope? Is Preliminary Engineering work done by an Agency eligible for reimbursement under the economic recovery?
Answer 31: A field review that includes a site inspection is always recommended since it will result in a properly scoped out project. PE is eligible if authorized since PE work is incidental to the construction of the project. Priority for project selection is to be given to construction contracts that can be completed within three years.
Question 32: If there is something like an 85/15 percentage split what happens to agencies that do not have sufficient matching funds, which could be the case if Gas Tax revenue, Prop 42, and/or Prop 1B funds are being deferred within California?
Answer 32: The federal share payable for the economic recovery funds may be up to 100% of the total eligible project cost at the discretion of the funds recipient. No matching funds are required by FHWA.
Question 33: Typically we are required to include extra provisions in our specifications and contracts on projects with federal funding (apprenticeship program, DBE goal, Federal Prevailing Wage Rates, etc.). Will this funding have those same requirements or will it come with the ability to be used more like state or local dollars?
Answer 33: For projects proposed for funding with the economic recovery funds, all federal requirements for normal federal-aid highway projects will need to be met. Failure to comply with all the federal requirements, such as contract provisions, DBE, and prevailing wages, will make the project ineligible for federal funding
Question 34: Is the TE takedown subject to the 50% expenditure “use it or loose it?”
Answer 34: Yes, 3% TE takedown is a part of the 70% of the funding that will subject to the 120 day to obligate 50% of the funding.
Question 35: We have advanced STIP funds for three cycles for an operations project on the State Highway System -US Highway 199. How will funding advances be attributed fairly to those few RTPAs who are in this position? David Brewer told me "three cycles of STIP" and this is what's in the documentation too, I believe. Would economic stimulus funds be counted as one cycle? If shares are allocated, would this be base, target or maximum?
Answer 35: Pending response.
Question 36: When will we have targets for Reservation Roads and Park Roads so we can add these to the FTIP?
Answer 36: This information is normally provided by FHWA to Caltrans. We pass information on these programs to the MPOs shortly after it is received from FHWA.
Question 37: When you have all comments and responses, can we get them?
Answer 37: As answers become available, we will post them on this website.