WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- States can use millions of dollars in unspent earmarks for projects to improve the U.S. transportation system, federal officials said Friday.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said more than $470 million in unspent funds would be available immediately to states for projects that will create jobs and help improve transportation across the country.
"We are freeing up these funds so states can get down to the business of moving transportation projects forward and putting our friends and neighbors back to work," LaHood said in a release.
Effective Friday, state transportation departments can use their unspent earmarked highway funds, some of which are nearly a decade old, on any eligible highway, transit, passenger rail or port project, LaHood said.
While Obama said he would veto any bill that comes to him with earmarks, the $473 million in highway earmarks from fiscal years 2003-2006 appropriations acts hasn't been spent for years.
The appropriations acts for those fiscal years also had provisions authorizing the transportation secretary to make unused funds available for eligible surface transportation projects.
States have until Oct. 1 to identify the projects for which they plan to use the funds and must obligate the earmark funds by Dec. 31.
"Particularly in these difficult fiscal times, states will be able to put these dollars to good use," Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez said.