WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Transportation will not consider increased highway funds for the Marianas until the Commonwealth government spends what it already has.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and his Republican colleague from American Samoa, Amata Aumua Coleman Radewagen, jointly requested the department provide more road money for the Marianas and Samoa in a January letter. But earlier this month Transportation said no, due to millions in unspent funds held by their local governments.
“President Trump has been talking about infrastructure funding,” Sablan said. “So, I wanted to be sure the Marianas gets its fair share. I invited Congresswoman Radewagen to join me in the letter, because both our districts get less than we should based on any objective measure, such as population or road mileage.”
Under the current funding formula, set in 1992, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands get 80 percent of federal highway funds. The Marianas and Samoa split the remaining 20 percent.
“This is not the first time we have tried to make the funding [fairer],” Sablan said. “Over the last 10 years, we have tried to work through the Obama administration and now the Trump administration. We have offered amendments on the floor of the House.
“Every time the answer is the same: you will not get more money if you are not spending what you already have.”
According to the Department of Transportation, the CNMI is sitting on $5.8 million.
Guam has a backlog of zero. The U.S. Virgin Islands has used all but $561,065 of its highway funds.
The CNMI also has the slowest rate of spending. In her response letter to Sablan, acting administrator of the Federal Highway Administration Brandye Hendrickson said, the “CNMI has expended only 48 percent of its [Territorial Highway Program] funds since [fiscal year] 2006, as compared to [American Samoa], Guam, and [U.S. Virgin Islands], which had expenditure percentages of 89 percent, 78 percent, and 69 percent, respectively.”
“Everyone knows our roads need work,” Sablan said. “So, you would think the Commonwealth would be using every penny that Congress appropriates.”
“I want to get more federal help. But the U.S. government will not give us more, if Commonwealth officials cannot keep up with Guam and other areas in spending what the Marianas has already received.” (PR)