25,000 constructions jobs on the line in Illinois budget mess

When the Illinois Legislature convenes today, there will be about 25,000 construction jobs on the line — not to mention the prospect of prolonged headaches on the road. The deadline for passing a state budget is on Thursday, and if legislators are unable to agree on a spending plan, road construction projects will come to a halt.

The Daily Journal reports,  the Illinois Department of Transportation has ordered contractors statewide to stop working until a budget bill is passed. Among the local projects being placed on hold are the Interstate 57 interchange at 6000N Road in Bourbonnais, the bridge crossing over Rock Creek along Illinois Route 102 and the Illinois Route 1 bridge project near Watseka.

Even more, many local construction workers will be laid off at the height of construction season. Iroquois Paving President Joe Cowan said about 150 of his employees and subcontractors will be forced to tap into unemployment benefits rather than earn overtime pay.

“I’ve been in this business for 30 years and I’ve never seen the state go 12 months without a budget,” Cowan said. “It’s a bad deal for everyone, but it’s way more painful for our employees than anyone else.”

The crippling budget impasse between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state Legislature controlled by Democrats will reach into a second year if they are unable to compromise on a budget by Thursday — which many consider inevitable.

The only hope in overcoming the work stoppage are stopgap measures currently being negotiated in Springfield, which would provide funding through the construction season, said Gianna Urgo, IDOT spokeswoman. State Rep. Katherine “Kate” Cloonen, D-Kankakee, said a bipartisan group of legislators already are working on that legislation.

“I’m hoping there will be an education budget and something for road projects,” Cloonen said. “I haven’t seen for certain what it will be, but I think there will be a bill.”

In addition to the job losses, traffic snarls caused by construction could take that much longer to go away. The bridge project on Route 1 in Watseka is down to a single lane and will remain that way until the state makes funding available, Cowan said. It was slated for completion on Sept. 1

Route 102 will remained closed at Kankakee River State Park and 6000N Road in Bourbonnais, which was closed recently for the interchange will remain that way. Mike Van Mill, Bourbonnais’ village administrator, said while the closures will hassle motorists, the $47.2 million interchange project itself will only see a delay. Past state budget impasses threatened to nix the entire interchange project, which is currently Bourbonnais’ crowned jewel for future economic development.

“I’m optimistic. It’s on its way to getting done,” Van Mill said. “The project is moving, so, hopefully, the budget impasse will be short-lived and it will keep moving.”

One project IDOT did not place on halt is reconstruction of the I-57 bridge over the Kankakee River in Kankakee. The $19.3 million project is very near completion and the state agency didn’t list it among those being placed on hold. It has been under construction for about two years.

Economically, the state’s lack of a budget has placed a freeze on many road projects, causing construction companies significant financial pain. The outstanding contracts locally represent a freeze of about $42 million in cash the companies could be earning, according to IDOT.

Charles Gallagher, president of Gallagher Asphalt, which operates one of its plants in Bourbonnais, said projects in Kankakee County and Chicago already have been put on hold by local governments uncertain of when they will receive state funding. Then come the backlogs, where the company completes multimillion dollar projects and local governments are unable to pay.

“When I talk to politicians they say they’re frustrated. They’re not as frustrated as me,” Gallagher said. “Politicians on both sides of the aisle need to compromise. If one side wins, it’s not gonna work.”