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Road Bill, Steel Prices Blamed for Firm's Loss

Congress and the Bush administration have been at odds in an election year over how much to spend on highways. President Bush wants a $256 billion outlay over the six years usually covered by the bill, which was to have been passed a year ago. After months of haggling, the House and Senate recently failed to compromise on a $299 billion bill. Meanwhile, Congress has been patching together short-term spending bills, the latest to run through the spring, which means that next year is the earliest a complete six-year bill can be passed.

That is a serious problem. State and local governments that depend on federal highway money are holding back on putting out bids for much-needed road projects. One such project is the widening of Interstate 95 south of Newington, where it becomes three lanes from four. The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance supports the project, saying that if Washington needed to be evacuated during an attack, that is where one of the worst bottlenecks would happen.

Williams can be blunt about his feelings because his name is on the front door and his family owns much of the company's stock. The company, though, has had its troubles, and some of them started before Congress began dawdling over the highway bill.

Frank E. Williams Jr., father of the current chairman, started the company in 1960 and spent the go-go 1980s acquiring other companies and running up debt. When the recession hit in 1990, the company began losing money and defaulted on most of its bank loans. Williams retired in 1994 but still owns almost 17 percent of the company; the family owns almost 30 percent more. The stock was delisted from the Nasdaq for several years. In 1997, it had to trade forgiveness of $4.5 million in bank loans for equity in the company. The company has been trading between $3.50 and $4.50 a share since March.

In 2001, the company moved its corporate headquarters from more expensive Falls Church to just outside the city of Manassas. It is the only publicly held company headquartered in Prince William County.

Despite the delay in the highway bill, Williams is working on some of the biggest projects in its history. Those include the underground visitor center being built in front of the U.S. Capitol; the Springfield interchange; and a $30 million deal to fashion and erect girders on the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac, its biggest project ever.

The company's revenue last year was $53.9 million. Although it's a relatively small company, its political profile in the industry might grow.

Pastor, the company spokeswoman, said that Williams will keep banging away at Congress and the administration. "I've even registered to lobby," she said.

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