Strike halts $110 million in Illinois highway projects

Heavy equipment operators have put approximately 20 highway construction projects worth about $110 million on hold with a strike in southern Illinois.

Members of Operating Engineers Local 520, based in Granite City, Ill., went on strike Aug. 2 against contractors who belong to the Southern Illinois Builders Association after their previous contract expired at the end of July.

The strike has temporarily shut down 23 transportation projects, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. But state officials said that 56 other projects are currently unaffected. Projects that were halted included the renovation of the Illinois Route 3 ramps off Interstate 55-70-64, five projects on Route 159, several jobs involving the extension of Route 255 and the renovation of the Joe Page Bridge in Hardin, Ill.

Transportation Department officials said the strike is untimely considering August weather is typically high season for road building. Construction engineer Ted Nemesky told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this month’s weather is ideal for laying asphalt, and the strike could push projects back into the fall and winter.

“Every day you lose here pushes you later into the fall,” Nemsky said.

While DOT officials have publicly stated a short strike would probably not cause significant problems, they have acknowledged a longer one could delay project completion dates until spring. The strike has also shut down the operation of four asphalt plants in Illinois, and additional construction projects may have to be halted if the current asphalt supply is exhausted.

Negotiations are between the worker’s union and the state contractors are underway.