Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, slammed a federal Department of Transportation plan Friday to confiscate funds that were earmarked but not yet spent on local projects in the Inland Empire, his chief of staff said Friday.
The plan could set Inland Empire highway projects back for years, and in some cases cost jobs in one of the areas hardest hit by the economic downturn, according to Lewis.
Lewis, 77, the longest-serving Republican member of Congress from California in history, announced in January he will retire at the end of this year after 46 years in elected office.
"The Obama Administration has decided to play favorites once again on the eve of an election, announcing that they will take back funds from transportation projects that in some cases are even now under construction," Lewis said in a statement released Friday afternoon.
"This announcement was made without any consultation with members of Congress, congressional committees, local or state officials," Lewis said. "I suspect it was probably made without even consulting the federal officials who are working on these projects."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Friday the Federal Highway Administration would allow states to take funds from any project that received congressionally designated funds between Fiscal Year 2003 and Fiscal Year 2006, if those funds have not been obligated for expenditure.
More than 60 projects in California are at risk of losing funds, including nine in Lewis' 41st Congressional District, which includes Redlands and Loma Linda.
"The announcement came without any notice to congressional offices or committees which allocated those funds," Lewis' chief of staff Jim Specht said. "They also provided no notice to local officials who are actively planning how to use a total of more than $10 million in federal funds."
In at least one case in the Inland Empire, the funds are needed to complete construction of an on-going project.
The City of Highland is rebuilding the Boulder Avenue Bridge, in part using $1 million in federal funds. Under the announcement Friday, the state would be allowed to redistribute those funds anywhere, Specht said.
Other projects that could be effectively halted are a new interchange for Barton Road at Interstate 215 in Grand Terrace, a more efficient Colorado River crossing for Interstate 40 at Needles, and a crucial interchange in Apple Valley that would be part of the new High Desert Corridor, Specht said.
"There is nothing to stop the state from taking funds from all of the projects identified in California and throwing it all into the pot to pay for a high-speed rail system that may never serve the Inland Empire," Lewis said. "This proposal could set back highway projects across the nation for decades, and it’s only value is to score political points for the administration."
A map of the current 41st Congressional District is attached to this report.