Editorial: All right already, finish road projects

The Detroit News
“Contractors are going back to work as we speak, using other non-union operators. So many projects will be up and running in very short order,” said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president for the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, Tuesday afternoon.

Major road construction projects have been at a standstill in Michigan for three weeks. Even a meeting with Gov. Rick Snyder this week couldn’t end the standoff between the Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, the contractors’ group, and the labor union, Operating Engineers 324. If not resolved, Michigan drivers will pay a heavy price.

At stake is completion of more than 150 road projects before the rapidly approaching end of the construction season.

If that work is not finished, motorists will have to contend with orange barrels and lane closures throughout the challenging winter driving season.

Among the project that are on hold is the rebuild of I-696 and the final piece of southbound I-75.

Ari Adler, spokesman for the governor, said that Snyder hoped to leave the between the union and contractors’ group Tuesday with a short term plan, perhaps extending the contract through the end of the year, that would get the workers back fixing the roads.

But differences between the two sides remain elusive.

“It’s clear the parties were not in agreement, that there’s no activity that’s immediately going to take place to get the road work going again,” Snyder said.

The contractors say they have begun hiring non-union operators to keep the projects moving.

Those willing workers should be dispatched to the most critical projects.

Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of MITA, told the Detroit News that some work has already restarted.

The price for both sides in this labor dispute is high. Workers are home without pay.

And contractors are at risk of losing bonuses awarded for finishing state-funded road work ahead of schedule.

The incentive for either an extension or a settlement is powerful.

But that does not seem to be moving the opponents toward compromise. In fact, talks appear to be deteriorating.

The union says it no longer wants to anything to do with the MITA bureaucracy and would rather deal with each contractor individually. That could further lengthen the process of getting new contracts signed.

Road construction effectively ends in mid-November when the first frost sets in and currently there are many projects far from completion.

The state has hinted it may call in the National Guard to perform some roadworking tasks.

But that is an extreme measure to be deployed when all other options are exhausted.

If the contractors can find enough non-union employees, there’s still hope that the projects can stay close to schedule.

If not, the governor may have to intervene to protect Michigan motorists.