Thursday, August 04, 2011

FAA deal would put some back to work in Illinois

By Jamey Dunn

An agreement on funding for the Federal Aviation Administration would bring some Illinoisans back to work, but if the U.S. Senate cannot reach a deal, continued deadlock could delay construction projects throughout the state.

Congress left for its summer break without approving an extension of funding for the FAA, resulting in the furlough of 4,000 employees and the shutdown of about 200 construction projects across the country. The U.S. House passed a bill containing the money, but the Senate did not vote on it. Senate Democrats took issue with a provision in the House bill that would cut subsidies for rural airports. Democrats also oppose Republican demands that union rights rollbacks be tied to any future long-term funding for the FAA. The last long-term funding for the administration expired in 2007, and Congress has been passing short-term extensions while it tries to work out a new plan.

In Illinois, 145 employees are off the job without pay until the money is approved. According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, most of them are engineering and technical support staff. “The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) is disappointed Congress has not passed a new FAA authorization or an extension, which is costing the federal government $30 million a day while directly impacting airport projects that are critical to our nation’s aviation system,” Rosemarie Andolino, Chicago Department of Aviation commissioner, said in a prepared statement. “Here in Chicago, the FAA has stated that 145 FAA employees have been furloughed, directly impacting their livelihoods and that of their families.”

No capital projects have been halted in the state, but there is concern that if the Senate does not pass the funding, future projects could be held up. Without congressional approval, the FAA is unable to administer $2.5 billion in funds for construction projects nationwide.

“It is possible … that airport projects scheduled to start this year will be delayed, along with the ongoing review of projects for 2012 and beyond if FAA funding is not approved,” Guy Tridgell, a spokesperson for IDOT, said in a prepared statement. IDOT provided a list of projects scheduled to begin this year:
  • Chicago Executive in Wheeling - partial taxiway construction.
  • St. Louis Downtown in Cahokia - runway rehabilitation.
  • Lake in the Hills - ramp construction, grading and drainage.
  • MidAmerica in Belleville - cargo ramp expansion.
  • Peoria International - rehabilitate pavements.
  • Quad City International - convert runway to taxiway.
  • Chicago Rockford International - rehabilitate runways 1-19 (phase 1).
  • Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport Springfield - “Gulf” aircraft ramp construction (phase 1).
  • Central Illinois Regional in Bloomington - perimeter fence construction.
According to IDOT the shutdown will not “have an immediate effect on the public’s ability to fly.” However, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said the shutdown erodes the agency’s ability to do its work. “Every day this goes on, we fall further behind. We need our 4,000 FAA employees and tens of thousands of construction workers back on the job so we can get critical projects moving again while it's still construction season.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced this afternoon  that a deal has been reached and the House bill could be approved as early as tomorrow. Senators who have already left Washington, D.C., may not have to return. The Senate has not yet adjourned. If Democrats and Republicans can agree, a bill can be passed by unanimous consent, and only one senator would have to be on the floor.

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