Hundreds of temporary workers will lose their jobs in coming weeks and highway projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars will be postponed as the state Department of Transportation copes with shrinking tax revenues.
Eighty-eight temporary hourly workers have been laid off in the past month, including 33 who were terminated today from jobs in the Sandhills area and Chatham County.
“The N.C. Department of Transportation is having to lay off temporary workers in its field offices and take other measures, because of funding cutbacks on the federal level as well as a drop in collections from the state motor fuels tax and state sales tax on motor vehicles, the primary sources of money for the department,” Gov. Mike Easley said in press release issued tonight.
DOT has 930 temporary workers in its field offices across the state, earning $11 to $20 an hour for jobs in road maintenance, inspection, surveying, driving and clerical work. Several hundred are being told that their jobs will end in the next few weeks, including some in the Triangle area, DOT spokesman Ernie Seneca said.
“These are difficult decisions and hard for our employees and their families,” Seneca said. “We’ll continue to take the necessary steps to meet our budget requirements and provide transportation services for North Carolina.”
Major bridge and highway project lettings scheduled for November and December have been postponed until at least Jan. 20. Because prices for fuel, asphalt and other construction materials are falling, DOT hopes to see contractors reduce their bids for these jobs in the coming months.
The postponed projects include work on the Fayetteville Outer Loop, estimated to cost about $250 million; the New Bern Bypass, $60 million; and a Tar River bridge project worth $16 million in Pitt County.
Easley said he told President-elect Barack Obama at a meeting in Philadelphia this week that North Carolina needs an infusion of federal funds to speed the start of public works projects.
“The state Transportation Department has more than $5 billion worth of projects ready to go today, throughout the state, if the money was available from a federal stimulus program,” Easley said. “These are projects that will help North Carolina and work to revive our economy.”
The economic slowdown has chilled car sales, and the state has seen a 20 percent drop since July 1 in funds from the highway use tax on car sales. Americans have reduced their driving sharply in the past year, and state gas tax revenues are down 5 percent. State motor vehicle fees collections have fallen about 25 percent.
In all, DOT has taken in about $108 million less in taxes over the past five months than it had counted on in its budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year.
Spending cutbacks ordered at DOT since September include reductions in operating hours at highway rest areas, suspension of road equipment rental contracts, a hiring freeze, and slowdowns or delays in paving, planting and small construction work.