Transportation Bill Is Glad Tidings for Depressed Construction Industry December 17, 1991|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER
The nation's battered construction industry is celebrating the arrival of an early Christmas present: the new $151-billion federal highway construction and mass transit program. The landmark transportation bill, which President Bush is expected to sign into law Wednesday, boosts federal spending on highway and mass transit construction a whopping 69% over funding levels in the previous transportation bill. The massive, six-year program ensures that transportation-related construction remains one of the few bright spots in the building industry, which employs nearly 5% of the California work force. Construction companies have chased after transportation and public works projects as a nationwide real estate slump has resulted in a dearth of commercial and residential construction. The financial benefits of the bill will spread beyond the building industry. Every $1 million in new construction creates about 34 full-time jobs--nearly two-thirds of them outside the building trade, according to the Construction Industry Research Board. "The industry has not been in a recession--it's been in a depression," said William D. Toohey Jr., vice president of the American Road and Transportation Builders Assn., a Washington-based trade group. "This (transportation bill) will be a shot in the arm for the highway construction industry." Industry officials project that a million construction-related jobs will be created during the life of the bill. That's good news to the legions of iron workers, carpenters, cement masons and others that have lost their jobs during the current slump. In Los Angeles County, an estimated 30% of construction workers are jobless, said Richard Slawson, an official with the Los Angeles County Building Construction Trades Council, a federation of 18 construction unions. "It will put large numbers of construction people back to work again," said Slawson of the transportation program.
"It's very positive for the industry," said John Cash, chief financial officer at San Bernardino-based Kasler Corp., which is building the interchange between the San Diego and the Century freeways. "The 10 busiest freeways are in Southern California, and there is a lot of work to be done." The impact of the legislation has already been felt even without a presidential signature. Several states that had delayed the release of transportation funds loosened their purse strings once Congress approved the bill late last month. "There were projects that were beginning to slow down because the states were starting to run out of money," said Richard F. Rossi, a construction industry analyst at Dean Witter Reynolds. "Those projects will now start to move."