Greater Cleveland is among the top 10 metro areas that have added construction jobs since last year, according to a construction association. But the prospect of a downturn looms over the news, tied to the fate of long-term federal highway funding currently stewing in Congress. ideastream’s Brian Bull reports:
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) held its press conference with the latest Innerbelt Bridge project as backdrop.
They were joined Ohio Department of Transportation officials. ODOT spokeswoman Jocelyn Clemmings gave a brief tour of where crews are building the second of two bridges that are replacing the recently-demolished Innerbelt bridge:
“We estimate during peak construction times, they’ll be as many as 500 people on the project,” Clemmings says.
Ken Simonson is the AGC’s Chief Economist. He said the Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor area ranked 9th nationwide for metro areas seeing growth in construction jobs.
“During the past 12 months, the Cleveland area has added 5,300 construction jobs," says Simonson. "That was a 15 percent increase. While last year, 37,500 people worked in construction, today there are 41,000 construction workers employed here.”
But at the same time, Myron Pakush, ODOT’s District 12 Deputy Director, is calling for Congressional lawmakers to establish a long-term fix for the highway trust fund, so as not to disrupt the flow of money between states and contractors.
"Long-term reimbursement delays could result in future project deferrals or delays," says Pakush. "The passing of the highway trust fund is necessary, to keep construction job growth occurring in northeast Ohio.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation can start making cuts as early as next month, if Congress doesn’t resolve the funding issue.
George Palko, President of the Great Lakes Construction Company, adds there needs to be a new, long-term highway transportation bill so the Highway Trust Fund stays solvent for years on end.
“A new bill should be supported with revenues linked to transportation use, such as an increased gas tax, or consideration of a distance traveled fee.”
The federal gas tax hasn’t increased since 1993. Both chambers of Congress are working on legislation to temporarily replenish the Highway Trust fund. A $10 billion House bill would fund transportation and infrastructure development though May. A smaller, $8 billion Senate version would fund projects through mid-December.