The clock is ticking, both on a new construction season and a new season in Washington, one seeking passage of a bipartisan transportation bill in Congress.
While the Senate has approved a bi-partisan bill that essentially would maintain the status quo for two years, the House has rejected the plan, though some House Democrats have proffered a three-month extension of current legislation in hopes that Republicans eventually will approve the Senate plan.
A 90-day extension would likely kill some projects in the Midwest this season by fostering a sense of uncertainty among transportation planners.
Failure to effect a meeting of the minds by Saturday, when current spending legislation expires, could be worse, forcing Midwest agencies to delay or scale back larger programs and initiatives, according to regional transportation officials.
Chicago-area transit officials estimate they will lose $1.2 million per day in federal gas tax revenues, potentially derailing plans by the Chicago Transit Authority to rehabilitate several city rail stations and plans by regional rail line Metra to install new switching equipment on its lines. Also in jeopardy is the Illinois Department of Transportation's annual state highway program, which typically kicks off in June.
The shortfall could cost the state thousands of construction jobs, according to Illinois Department of Commerce President Dick Whitely, who believe House Republicans should support the Senate plan after failing to reach a consensus among themselves on a five-year plan.
Meantime, Missouri Department of Transportation Special Assignments Coordinator Bob Brendel has indicated the agency could be forced to cancel its annual bid letting, scheduled for April 20, in the event current legislation expires. “Skipping one letting has a big impact,” he told reporters.
All told, an impasse could cost the nation's construction and transportation industries up to 1.9 million jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Even a short-term lapse in federal transportation funding could cause damage surpassing that incurred by last summer's shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, the result of another impasse in Congress. The price tag for the resulting 16-day interlude totaled nearly half a billion dollars.
Americans may welcome a holiday from a federal gas tax, given the prices they're paying to fill their tanks, but failure to fully engage the construction industry in the nation's economic recovery eventually may cost everyone.