Wednesday, August 3, 2011

THE ECONOMY: Airport construction halted across country

WASHINGTON - Dozens of airport construction projects across the country are on hold and thousands of federal employees are not working because Congress failed to pass legislation to keep the Federal Aviation Administration operating, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday.

The FAA’s operating authority expired at midnight Friday. Dozens of stop-work orders were issued over the weekend for projects to build and modernize airport control towers, as well as other improvement projects. Many of the airport projects are designed to reduce congestion.

Logan International Airport in Boston is not affected.

“Because Congress didn’t do its work, FAA programs and thousands of public and private sector jobs are in jeopardy,’’ LaHood said. He called on lawmakers to pass legislation quickly to restart shuttered operations.

But all indications pointed to a prolonged shutdown.

Representative John Mica, Republican of Florida and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said there are no negotiations between the House and Senate to resolve the dispute, and House Republican leaders are determined to hold their position.

“I have no idea when we’ll open the FAA again,’’ he said.

Air traffic controllers have remained on the job, as well as FAA employees who inspect the safety of planes and test pilots.

But airlines’ authority to collect federal ticket taxes has expired, costing the FAA about $30 million a day in lost revenue, Randy Babbitt, FAA administrator, said.

That money goes into an aviation trust fund. The fund “has a healthy balance now, but that would be depleted in fairly rapid order’’ without congressional action, he said.

Nearly 4,000 FAA employees in 35 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico who are paid from the trust fund have been furloughed.

About $2.5 billion in federal airport construction grants cannot be processed because workers who handle those grants have been furloughed, officials said. That, in turn, has halted construction projects, putting hundreds of other people employed by those jobs out of work.

“This is simply going to slow down our ability to expand to keep up with growing traffic demands,’’ Babbitt said.

For example, work was scheduled to begin Saturday on a $6 million project to demolish a control tower at LaGuardia Airport in New York. But the construction company laid off 40 workers who were assigned to the demolition project, leaving the partly dismantled tower unattended.

Work also has stopped for new control towers at airports in Las Vegas; Palm Springs, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; Kalamazoo, Mich.; and Gulfport, Miss., among other projects.

Joan Lowy Associated Press July 26, 2011

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