In a move to save money, Virginia highway officials will allow contractors to stop work on road projects for the winter.

The state Department of Transportation expects about 10 percent of the contractors working on about 300 projects to take the offer, saving the state about $5.4 million this fiscal year, said James W. Atwell, the department's director of finance.

The delays allow the state to put off paying contractors until the next fiscal year. In August, state officials estimated a $131 million shortfall in highway funds this year. That figure is expected to grow because the state's estimated shortfall has been revised upward from $1.3 billion to $1.9 billion.

Usually, the department pushes contractors to complete projects on schedule. The agency sometimes has turned down requests to break off work during bad weather, said Kenneth Tingler, a senior transportation engineer.

Richard D. Daugherity III, engineer director of the Virginia Road and Transportation Builders Association, said the change should make members of the organization happy because they prefer working in good weather.

When work crews are on the job during the winter and have to sit idle because of rain or snow, it costs contractors money, Daugherity said.