Illinois continues to struggle with debt but is going forward with employment programs that rely heavily on construction. In addition to a $31-billion infrastructure improvement program—a multi-year initiative currently under way—Illinois legislators recently approved a $12 billion road construction program to be funded by toll hikes. According to estimates, the program could create as many as 120,000 jobs and generate $21 billion in total economic growth.

Other states in the region are attempting to follow suit. Taking its cue from Indiana, which in 2006 sold operating and toll-collection rights for the Indiana Toll Road to fund infrastructure projects, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has floated the idea of privatizing the 241-mile Ohio Turnpike, a move that could fund $2.5 billion in state projects.

The Obama administration is also seeking to boost employment with public construction programs. Its $450-billion American Jobs Act, unveiled Sept. 8, allocates $105 billion for public construction, including $50 billion for road projects, $25 billion for public school renovations, $5 billion for upgrades to community colleges, $15 billion for abandoned or foreclosed residences and commercial structures and $10 billion for a national infrastructure bank.

The initiative could be a boon for U.S. builders providing the administration can sell it to a Congress charged with paring $1.5 trillion from the national budget as a provision of August's debt reduction deal. Although President Barack Obama indicated the jobs act wouldn't contribute to the national debt, he hasn't specified how he would fund the initiative.

Some legislators have pointed out that infrastructure investment doesn't necessarily translate into job creation, as witnessed by the recent hopscotching of high-speed rail funds from one state to the other.

Even Obama has conceded that “shovel ready was not as shovel ready as we expected.”

Legislators may be more inclined to shelve shovel ready. “History doesn't tell us a lot about this particular Congress,” says Jeff Shoaf, AGC's senior executive director of government and public affairs. “What it does tell us is that this Congress finds it easier to cut a new project than an ongoing one, and that's why there's cause for worry.”