Numerous businesses and workers related to the road construction industry say they are being negatively impacted by the
inability of the president, the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to work together.
The House has passed a bill with a funding level of $275 billion. While the Senate's bill calls for funding of $318 billion
- $43 billion higher than the House version - the biggest problem appears to be with President George W. Bush, according to
David Gillies, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Illinois).
"The White House is concerned about spending and it sees $256 billion as a threshold it doesn't want to cross," Gillies
said. "The White House has dug in its heels and drawn a line in the sand on that number."
A conference committee has been formed, he said, but time is running out. The current extension to TEA-21, the
transportation reauthorization bill, expires June 30; the tight time frame is complicated by the fact that it is a
presidential election year.
"Most of the people I'm talking to aren't expecting anything to happen until after November," said Douglas Whitley,
president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and co-chairman of the Transportation for Illinois Coalition. "If they don't
have a conference committee bill by the end of June, then the speculation is that they would pass a six-month extension. It
would allow a lame duck Congress to come back after the election and actually pass the transportation bill."
Bruce Holland, chairman of Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois' transportation committee, agrees.
"If they don't get a bill worked out by June 30, they'll probably have to do a temporary bill to keep things moving, but
there won't be much money in it," Holland said.
The delay is having far-reaching impacts, he said, as road construction affects construction companies, unions, architects,
engineers and related businesses and workers.
"If we don't get something done pretty soon, we're going to lose the construction season," said Holland.
Tom Barta, executive vice president of Fred Weber Inc., an industry leader in St. Louis area highway construction and one
of the largest road materials suppliers, is even more concerned.
"I think it's going to really impact road construction for this year," Barta said. "I've talked with representatives of
both the Missouri and Illinois Depts. of Transportation, and the biggest problem is in planning because they don't know how
much money they're going to have."
Because the transportation departments are playing a waiting game, contractors like Fred Weber have to do the same, Barta
said. They have to plan ahead for projects regarding equipment, material and personnel and that can't be done under current
"Last year, at our peak, we had about 930 workers on the payroll," he said. "This year, we'll probably have 50 to 100
fewer. Next year, if they don't get something going, it's going to be drastically down."
According to Whitley, Illinois' road construction is hit with a double whammy.
"I think you have to add to the equation the governor's decision to steal money out of the road fund that would ordinarily
be going to construction jobs," Whitley said.
The Blagojevich administration diverted nearly $400 million from the road fund in the 2004 budget to help with the general
fund, he said, and is proposing to do the same for 2005.
"The federal money has an impact on the Illinois side, but this diversion of state money is just as much to blame for this
summer's lack of construction," he said.