1,700 Could Lose Jobs in New Jersey Projects Shutdown

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By Jewel Edwards

July 11 — As many as 1,700 construction workers could be unemployed because of an order by Gov. Chris Christie (R) to stop construction on hundreds of highway and bridge projects in New Jersey, according to an analysis from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association.

The shutdown that started at 11:59 PM on July 8 could cost New Jersey taxpayers between $41 million and $1.3 billion in lost revenue and economic activity within the first week, according to the report, written by ARTBA Chief Economist Alison Premo Black and released July 11.

Acting Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is filling in for Christie while he's traveling, announced July 6 that the New Jersey Department of Transportation and New Jersey Transit would halt construction on 904 “non-critical” projects totaling $650 million of work.

Facing Joblessness

Greg LaLevee, business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, told Bloomberg BNA July 10 that the order has forced thousands of construction workers to face “the possibility of not working” during the height of New Jersey's construction season.

Local 825 represents more than 6,000 workers who operated heavy construction equipment on construction sites.

On June 30, Christie issued Executive Order 210 authorizing the project shutdown when the New Jersey legislature failed to approve legislation that would have replenished the state's $8 billion Transportation Trust Fund, which is expected to run out in a month.

Construction on the selected transportation projects is halted for at least seven days, but the shutdown could be extended.

Construction workers who would be affected by the shutdown collectively earn between $1.4 million and $1.9 million a week if they're working, according to Black's analysis.

Contractors Feeling the Sting

LaLevee said the shutdown's impact wouldn't be limited to workers, but would spread to contractors, engineering firms and inspection firms as well.

The ARTBA report states that maintaining the inactive construction sites could cost as much as $1.7 million per week during the shutdown.

Robert Briant Jr. chief executive officer of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey told Bloomberg BNA July 11 that highway and bridge contractors must continue to secure equipment, set up traffic controls, and ensure that ongoing maintenance continues on their projects even during periods when construction has stopped.

Completion of these halted projects could be pushed into another construction season depending on how long the shutdown continues, Briant said.

UTCA: Season Provides for Lean Times

“This is the best time in the construction season,” Briant said. “This is when our workers make their money to help carry them forward to the winter times. This is when our contractors make their money to build a bit of a reserve. These are weeks that we lose that we can never get back.”

Briant said many of UTCA's contractor members have laid off employees since the shutdown began. As of July 11, about UTCA contractors reported about 700 employees out of work.

Contractors are also trying to shift some of their workers to other projects, specifically federal projects that still have funding. But the contractors can't do this for multiple weeks, Briant said.

LaLevee told Bloomberg BNA that he and other union members are “certainly encouraging all of the elected officials to get back to Trenton and sort this out and find a solution that everybody can live with.”

Echoing LaLevee's comments, Briant said UTCA is hopeful that legislators will be sitting down to find a resolution over the next few days.

Stephen Schapiro, spokesman for NJDOT told Bloomberg BNA July 11 that the agency and NJ Transit “will be using the intervening days to assess and prioritize the list of projects to obtain the greatest effect out of the remaining TTF funds.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jewel Edwards in Washington at jedwards@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

For More Information

Text of the ARTBA report is available at http://src.bna.com/gFQ.

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