MoDOT Safe Routes to School Program currently has 40% obligation rate, just below the national average

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership has recently announced the awarde and obligation rates for Safe Routes to School programs across the country.

These State of the States reports show how the different Safe Routes to School programs across the country are doing over time and in comparison to each in moving the federal Safe Routes to School funds from funds authorized by Congress to projects on the ground.
 
As of the fourth quarter 2010, Missouri had awarded 71% of its Safe Routes to School funds--exactly on the national average.  It has obligated 40% of its funds, just a little below the national average of 43%.
 
By comparison, as of fourth quarter 2009, Missouri had awarded 84% of its funds (compared with the national average of 72%) and obligated 36% (compared with the national average of 40%).
 
In short, Missouri appears to be at or above average in the percentage of funds it has awarded, and a little below average in the percentage of funds obligated.

Missouri Safe Routes to School Program Award and Obligation Rates
DateMissouri Award PercentageMissouri Obligation PercentageNational Award PercentageNational Award Rate
Jan 09121%25%89%33%
Feb 1084%36%72%40%
Feb 1171%40%71%43%
Note that the award rate can go above 100% if states award funds in anticipation of receiving them later.
 
What do "awarded" and "obligated" mean?
After Congress authorizes federal spending for a program like Safe Routes to School, the state Safe Routes to School program goes through a process to determine how it will be spent.  In Missouri (and most states) most of the funds are dedicated to a grant award process, where local governments and other agencies and organizations can submit grant proposals.  
 
It takes time to organize a round of grants, gather the proposals, score and evaluate them, and decide which will be funded (Missouri is currently taking applications for a round of funding--the round has been open since the first of the year and it will close April 15th.).  Once that decision is made, the funds are "awarded". (The awards for Missouri's current round of funding will likely be made some time this summer.)
 
Now the local government, agency, or organization has a project plan and an award of funds, but before the project can proceed, they must go through a complex process of negotiating the details of a contract with MoDOT, which must be approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
 
If the project involves infrastructure--a road or a sidewalk, for instance--many of the details of the plans and proposal must be worked out to the satisfaction of the DOT's and FHWA's engineers, designers, and accounts.
 
Once those details are worked out, the contract is signed and approved by all parties, including the DOT and FHWA, the DOT gives the project a 'notice to proceed' and the project can move forward.  
 
At that point the funds are 'obligated'.
 
This can be a fairly complex process--it is never less than a few months to move from award to obligation and many times it is the better part of a year or even more than a year, especially if the project hits snags.
 
That is why the award rate is (almost) always less than the authorization amount, and the obligation rate is always less than the award rate.
 
Those rates will never equal 100%, but how low or high the rates are is one way of looking at how efficient the DOT is in taking the federal funds and turning that money into projects quickly, and how quickly the rates rise over time is one way of looking at how quickly and well a state's Safe Routes to School program has gotten organized and off the ground..

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