Infrastructure Projects Could Restart Soon

March 18, 2009 8:02:16 PM PDT
Thousands of public works projects could soon be back on track in California; from road repairs to school upgrades. With the work, comes employment for tens of thousands of people who lost their jobs when these projects had to be put on hold, but there is a catch.

"There are no jobs available in my field. It's just dried up," says Rick Triplett, an unemployed rock plant worker.

After months of being out of work, Triplett finally has hope he'll be able to go get his job back. He was laid off from one of California largest rock processing plants at the end of last year, when the state froze funding to more than 5,000 public works projects throughout California during the budget crisis.

"It all has to do with funding the state projects. They have to get the money out there so we can all go to work," says Triplett.

The state investment board just approved up to $500 million in bond money to restart some of those stalled projects. It almost had to because some projects, including school upgrades, could not wait any longer.

"Five of those projects represent $22 million for health and safety issues that pose immediate risk to school children," says Lisa Silverman, from the California Department of General Services.

And banks that were financing affordable housing developments were getting impatient.

"Absent those funds or other sources, the bank will be filing notices of default on those projects," says Jonathan Klein, the Union Bank vice-president.

But there's a catch, the $500 million won't be doled out unless California can sell $4 billion worth of bonds next week. It'll be the first time the state is testing Wall Street in months. Even if that's successful, $500 million won't be enough to restart every stalled project.

"They'll be looking on priority basis to spread this out across the infrastructure needs. We certainly expect to have a fair share for transportation," said Will Kempton, a Caltrans director.

And that's good news for Triplett because his former employer provided a lot of the gravel and cement for state transportation projects; he thinks he can get re-hired.

"It's not going to get any better unless they release the money," says Triplett.

If the bond sale goes well next week, projects could get their money and hire people by summer.


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