Recent changes in MAP-21 have made Buy-America rules more strict. It will now apply to all contracts associated with a project, even ones that aren’t paid out of Federal dollars. This caught highway planners by surprise, and nearly halted a $1.3 billion expansion of CA highway 91 in the Inland Empire:
Inland officials are sounding alarm bells about a new twist on an old federal policy they say threatens big transportation projects set to launch in a few months. Going to bat for those officials are local members of Congress, who are urging the U.S. transportation secretary to be flexible in enforcing a provision concerning the use of domestic materials on roads and bridges, plus utility lines that have to moved. Hanging in the balance, officials say, is the massive makeover of Highway 91 between Interstate 15 and the Riverside County-Orange County line due to start by year’s end. The $1.3 billion project entails building four toll lanes, two general-purpose lanes and a connector ramp, and aims to deliver relief to tens of thousands of weary commuters who drive to jobs near the coast.
The projects could be postponed for months, if not years, officials said.
“We’ve always had Buy America on our contracts that use federal funds,” said Garry Cohoe, director of project delivery for San Bernardino Associated Governments.
What’s different, officials say, is federal lawmakers have extended the “Buy America” requirement to every contract associated with a project. That includes contracts signed to move gas pipelines, electrical wires and phone lines that are in the path of construction — though utility relocation typically isn’t paid for by federal dollars.
This is nothing new for transit agencies. They’ve always had to deal with this nonsense. This was the stated reason for rejecting the XPressWest HSR loan application. And Houston’s LRT project was severely delayed because two test vehicles were assembled in Spain (even though no Federal funds were involved).
Oh, and as for that Hwy 91 project….the DOT immediately granted an exemption.