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Airport projects idle because federal funding halted
Question of the Day
Dozens of airport construction projects across the country are on hold and thousands of federal employees are not working because Congress failed to pass legislation to keep the Federal Aviation Administration operating, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday.
The FAA’s operating authority expired at midnight Friday. Dozens of stop-work orders were issued over the weekend for projects to build and modernize airport control towers, as well as other improvement projects, officials said. Many of the airport projects are designed to improve the efficiency of air travel and reduce congestion.
Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he doesn’t see any progress toward a resolution that would end the shutdown.
“I have no idea when we’ll open the FAA again,” he told reporters Monday.
Air traffic controllers have remained on the job, as well as FAA employees who inspect the safety of planes and test pilots. But airlines’ authority to collect federal ticket taxes has expired, costing FAA about $30 million a day in lost revenue, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said.
That money goes into an aviation trust fund. The fund “has a healthy balance now, but that would be depleted in fairly rapid order” without congressional action, he said.
Nearly 4,000 FAA employees in 35 states, and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, who are paid from the trust fund have been furloughed.
About $2.5 billion in federal airport construction grants cannot be processed because workers who handle those grants have been furloughed, officials said. That, in turn, has halted construction projects, putting hundreds of other people employed by those jobs out of work.
“This is simply going to slow down our ability to expand to keep up with growing traffic demands,” Mr. Babbitt said.
For example, work was scheduled to begin Saturday on a $6 million project to demolish a control tower at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. But 40 construction workers hired for the project were told to stay home, Mr. Babbitt said.
Work also has stopped for new control towers at airports in Las Vegas; Palm Springs, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; Kalamazoo, Mich., and Gulfport, Miss., among other projects, officials said.
Approval also is on hold for airports to receive a new generation of superlarge airliners, including permission for Boeing 747-800s to begin servicing San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Newark, N.J., and Huntsville, Ala., according to the FAA.
Long-term funding authority for the FAA expired in 2007. Unable to agree on new long-term funding legislation for the agency, Congress has kept the FAA operating through a series of 20 short-term extension bills.
The Senate passed a long-term bill in February and the House approved a different version in April. Lawmakers have resolved most of the differences between the bills, but no progress has been made on a half-dozen other issues.
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