Illinois road construction returns to life – Transportation News

on Jul7

7 July 2017 | 6:21 pm

Employees at R&G Engineering normally are busy overseeing quality control at road construction sites around Chicago. But recently, workers have been sitting in the small construction company’s Chicago office, surfing the internet and eating pizza and tacos.

These civil engineers were waiting for state legislators to decide whether or not to pay them, amid the state budget stalemate that shut down roadwork projects statewide. That waiting around cost R&G about $10,000 in administrative costs, said Rick Rivera, president of the 20-person firm. It has annual revenue of about $4 million, he said.

“They just kept asking, ‘Am I going to continue to have a job?’ And we couldn’t really answer it,’ ” Rivera said. “I know a lot of firms did lay their staff off.”

But R&G’s six civil engineers will be back to work on July 10, since Illinois lawmakers passed a new state budget yesterday. The spending plan reinstated funding for 900 active construction projects across the state, according to the Illinois Road & Transportation Builders Association.

An economic analysis by the organization estimates the weeklong shutdown of the state construction projects cost the state at least $34 million.

Read more:

Halted road projects bad news for contractors

Latest victim of budget impasse: Your commute.

The Illinois Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment.

NOT SO FAST

But not all firms will be back to work as quickly, and it will take some time for road projects to ramp up again.

Contractors will have to rent equipment again, reinstate traffic control measures at work sites and get crews up to speed, said Mike Sturino, president of the Road & Transportation Builders Association, an industry trade group. One month of delay could raise total project costs by 1.5 percent, as well as inconvenience local drivers, he said.

“The average driver is going to see greater inconvenience around a job that could have been completely done by the end of August,” Sturino said. “A lot of construction firms try and finish in advance of the school year, or downstate, in advance of harvest. There are going to be headaches for parents and bus drivers, folks who are trying to get to work or go shopping.”

LONG-TERM CONCERNS

While Sturino is glad for the new budget, he said legislators did not address the state’s infrastructure needs. The association estimates that 50 percent of Illinois roads and 15 percent of bridges have fallen into disrepair.

“I’m worried that the state’s elected officials continue to approach problems only when they become a crisis level,” he said. “They don’t engage in thoughtful meaningful planning of our future.”

Marty Ozinga, president of Ozinga Bros., a 1,500-person cement and construction materials supplier based in Evergreen Park, says the budget stalemate affects his confidence in future public projects. And the confidence level of outside investors interested in investing in Illinois will take a hit, too. The budget stalemate increased risk in public investment in Illinois, he said, and will be factored into contractors’ bidding processes in the future. An increase in the individual income tax rate to 4.95 percent will also stymie future investment in the state, he said.

“The solution isn’t just to tax your way out of it. People will up and leave,” he said. “We keep buying ourselves breathing room, but at some point it just makes a heavier, heavier toll on the business climate in Illinois.”

Read more: For business, this election comes down to one thing: Taxes​

Ozinga estimates the budget stalemate affected only about 60 of his 750 drivers, who stayed home from work yesterday without pay. He believes the state should invest more in infrastructure and reform its pension system. Otherwise, he said, local drivers will face safety issues, like the deadly Minneapolis bridge collapse in 2007.

“We have a fifth generation of family members here, 29 kids that we’re bringing up,” he said. “We want to believe that there’s a good future for them, so we make investments with that notion. But do you make more investments in Illinois or somewhere else, in a state that has a budget surplus?”



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