The Interstate 5 Antlers Bridge near Lakehead.
California is seven weeks into its new fiscal year without a budget passed. The Golden State is facing a $19 billion deficit.
But the longer the state legislature delays passing a budget, the bigger the problems become in many sectors.
Take transportation projects, for example.
The California Department of Transportation announced last week that funding for projects worth over $2.1 billion may either be deferred or delayed because of the budget situation. In addition, Caltrans cannot award over $900 million in new contracts to construction firms, and payments to contractors on $9.5 billion worth of current construction may be delayed in the coming months due to the lack of available cash.
In District 2, which covers Shasta, Trinity, Tehama, Siskiyou, Plumas, Lassen and Modoc counties, some $339 million worth of current construction projects may be affected, including the $124 million Interstate 5 Antlers Bridge project near Lakehead.
“As of Wednesday morning (August 11), Caltrans has stopped awarding new contracts in order to preserve cash so we can pay the contractors working on our current construction projects,” said Caltrans District 2 director John Bulinski in a press release.
If a budget is not passed soon, projects such as Antlers Bridge could be put on hold by mid-September.
In addition, 14 upcoming projects worth a total of $129 million in District 2 have been put on standby.
“This is exactly what the economy doesn’t need,” said Julie Lee, Caltrans Public Information Manager for District 2. “We do most road construction projects in the summer, so we have a limited window of opportunity to get this work done. We can’t even spend federal money until the state budget passes.”
In the past, some construction contractors could give Caltrans some leeway with a delayed budget. However, after two years of a hard recession, many companies aren’t in a financial position to keep working and cover a gap without pay, Lee added. Interruptions can also drive up the overall costs of the projects.
If road and bridge projects get put on hold, it will likely be another big blow to the state and local economy. District 2 projects are being completed by both state and area contractors. If an out-of-the-area contractor has to pull out, the company’s workers who are staying and shopping in the area will also vanish.
Transportation is just one portion of the statewide economic picture, but as Los Angeles Times Opinion Blogger George Skelton writes, there seems to be no sense of urgency at the State Capitol to pass the budget any time soon. Pressure by the public tends to be the prod that get the legislature moving, Skelton writes.
One high-profile project that will likely not be affected by the current situation is the Highway 44 “Dana to Downtown” bridge project, which is nearing its completion. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will likely take place near the end of September, according to Lee. The Dana Drive ramp to the bridge — something many Redding residents are ready for — will soon be open as well.
In addition to the Antlers Bridge project, other current projects that could be impacted if a prolonged budget impasse continues include:
• The I-5 rehab project in Red Bluff — $35.5 million
• Highway 70 Spanish Creek bridge replacement — $28.6 million
• Highway 299 Weaverville traffic calming — $560,000
• I-5 Cottonwood Hills truck climbing lanes — $24.7 million
• Highway 99 Los Molinos traffic calming — $4.9 million
Jim Dyar is a news, arts and entertainment journalist for A News Cafe and the former arts and entertainment editor for the Record Searchlight’s D.A.T.E. section. Jim is also a songwriter and leader of the Jim Dyar Band. He lives in Redding. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment.