NORFOLK -- While Virginia's boom in road building has helped some contractors, others have not enjoyed the benefits of the state's $422 million initiative.
Last fall, in a special legislative session, the Virginia General Assembly approved unprecedented additional funding for transportation.
"The state of Virginia asked contractors to gear up because there would be a humongous workload," R.M. Buchanan, vice president of Higgerson-Buchanan Inc., a Chesapeake heavy construction firm, told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and the Ledger-Star last week.
"We're now looking for work because the state didn't let the contracts as fast as they were supposed to," he said.
In addition, the state highway department doesn't have as much money for construction as it had expected.
In the special 1986 session, the General Assembly approved additional sales, title and gasoline taxes to generate about $422 million for road construction. The tax hikes, which took effect Jan. 1, included raising the sales tax by half a cent, the gas tax by 2 1/2 cents, the vehicle title tax by 1 percent and annual vehicle licensing fees by $3.
A delay in federal funding prevented the state tax money from reaching contractors until June, said Claude D. Garver Jr., the state's construction engineer in Richmond.
"That was a very unfortunate situation," he said. "We had anticipated getting started on the planning a lot earlier."
The department had hoped to get some contracts out as soon as the winter broke, Garver said. "Up in the mountains, the weather has a big effect on us. But down where you are, you can get started as soon as January or February."
Now with the funding in place, road construction should increase throughout the state, Garver said. "I would hope the contractors that are seeing idle time now will be keeping very busy in the coming months."
So far, "We haven't seen an increase in employment opportunities for construction workers," said Doris K. Hindlin, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Employment Commission in Norfolk. Also, she said, area employment offices have not seen any indication there will be a shortage of workers.
The increase in funding for roads will help the area to maintain current employment levels, said Sherwood E. Liles, vice president of the Virginia Beach-based Tidewater Construction Corp.
"For the past few years, industrial-type construction has been down in the area," Liles said. "The accelerated highway program helps that out. It takes up the slack.'