Contractors clamor for road money

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Local,Virginia,Transportation,Liz Essley

Virginia road builders and engineers may lay off employees or look for work in other states if lawmakers don't come up with badly needed funds for roads, a contractors group said.

The Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance said about 25 percent of the construction companies and engineering firms that are members of the group could start laying off workers as soon as next year.

A survey of the alliance's 340 members in September showed that nearly 90 percent of them were already pursuing business opportunities in other states and 22 percent have closed Virginia facilities, at least temporarily, over the past year.

"If you look at the transportation situation in Virginia, in a couple of years we go off the cliff. In a couple of years there will be no more funding for construction," said VTCA Executive Vice President Jeff Southard. "I'm not sure -- at least since 1986 -- that we've ever had this much problem."

Local governments and business groups have been clamoring for years for more road construction money to relieve perpetually congested highways, particularly in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Virginia ranks 42nd in per capita spending on transportation, Southard said.

"[Our workers] have a hard time getting to their jobs on time in the morning primarily because of congestion," said Roy Beckner, who works in business development for the Gainesville construction firm S.W. Rodgers Co. Inc.

State officials acknowledge they need billions of dollars to address all of Virginia's transportation needs, but so far they have failed to agree on how to raise the additional money.

Beckner said his company isn't moving or firing anyone, but business is hard with the state investing little in transportation.

"The improvements that are needed on a regular basis with a sustainable funding haven't been generated by the last couple of governors, including Gov. [Bob] McDonnell, who promised to be a transportation governor," Beckner said. "Quite frankly, I, along with a lot of other people in our industry, are not happy."

McDonnell proposed raising up to $500 million annually by 2018 to build more roads, but he hasn't said how he would raise the money. Earlier this year, the General Assembly killed McDonnell's proposal to use part of the state sales tax for roads. Democrats want to increase the gas tax or other taxes to pay for construction.

But Republicans are balking at any tax increase.

"Obama wants to increase taxes. The Republicans are wimping out there and apparently going to let him do that," said Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas. "We should not follow suit with the same kind of policies and practices that are beleaguering Washington and crushing the whole country."

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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