Construction News Tracker Video: Push for Highway Bill Strengthens

Keep alert for highway funding plans...

Construction jobs expand...barely...

In construction? Then don't knock Facebook...

And silica dust rules create a fog...

That and more on Construction News Tracker brought to you by Caterpillar and produced by ForConstructionPros.com.

Left, right and sideways is about the best way to describe where a myriad of proposed federal highway funding bills are coming from. With a bankruptcy deadline just months away, Capitol Hill is abuzz with all sorts of ideas to find money to keep America's infrastructure humming.

The U.S. Senate Transportation Committee proposal is being marked up as we speak. Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and advocate of a long-term bill, wants a six-year plan with a $50 billion annual spending base, adjusted for inflation.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx advanced the White House highway bill recently that calls for $302 billion spent over four years in a reauthorization proposal. However, Foxx has also stated that if Congress does nothing and the Highway Fund well runs dry some state DOT projects will have to stop construction, and upwards of 700,000 construction jobs would be affected.

This comes on the heels of a Senate Finance Committee hearing on ways to expand government funding. Standard & Poors claims the feds spend only a paltry 1.7 percent of GCP on infrastructure - five times less than Canada and much lower than other developed countries.

May 12-16 is National Infrastructure week, and the push gains impetus.

Latest unemployment numbers for April show the best rate for construction in seven years at 9.4 percent. Thirty-two thousand more jobs were created last month, the highest since June of 2009. That means there are now 6 million employed in the field, but still a long way to go as the rate for those still seeking jobs remains elusive.

Government rules covering silica dust exposure have the industry a-twitter following strict new OSHA guidelines set to be imposed. There's no denying that silicosis is a deadly disease that affects many construction workers who breathe in hazardous dust that creates a corrosive inhalant.

Rock, brick, mortar and industrial sand are some sources, and the conditions are intensified from drilling, crushing, cutting, grinding and other work. New OSHA rules calling for exposure monitoring at 25 PG/M3, plus mandatory respirators and dust controls, carries an estimated price tag of a half billion dollars annually - which construction association leaders claim is unacceptable.

If you're looking for a construction job and are near Iowa your chances have just improved. The massive social networking company Facebook is asking Altoona, Iowa, officials to approve a second building at the $1 billion data center now underway. Eventually, Facebook will build out its 192 acres in the Hawkeye State, and they're not alone. Microsoft plans to construct a $1.1 billion data center in West Des Poines,Iowa, in the near future.

Can you imagine the consternation among Washington State DOT officials, and it's all from Big Bertha. The massive tunnel boring machine employed to bore 60 feet underground came to a screeching halt last December when it struck an unknown discarded pipe, overheated and apparently burned bearings that move the cutterhead.

Idle since then, WSDOT and Seattle Tunnel Partners have been building a pit to the front of the machine, providing access to the cutterhead itself which will then show the extent of damage. Meanwhile, the price tag continues to rise as contractors have put aside $125 million for the tunnel boring delay, and that doesn't address potential change orders or cost overruns.

One WSDOT official has recently been quoted as saying that the entire Seattle Tunnel project could be totally abandoned.

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