Private firms gear up for larger transportation role

The fight over rebuilding the state’s roads has gone from where they will be built to who will build them. And thousands of engineering, surveying and other specialized jobs hang in the balance.

As the dust settles from the fallout over which communities received a cut of the initial $4.5 billion in Proposition 1B bond funds, a new conflict is erupting over whether these projects will be staffed by government engineers or private contractors.

“We call it the 100-year war,” said Bruce Blanning, an executive assistant with the public employees union Professional Engineers in California Government.
While this isn’t a new issue, transportation players say that the sheer scope of increased workload that will come from the infusion of cash from the nearly $20 billion bond has reignited the debate over private contracting. Early indications are that there will be a significant increase in that practice, unless the California Supreme Court rules against Proposition 35, the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2000 that made it easier for Caltrans to use private contracting.

The high-court ruling could come at anytime.

Blanning testified at a Senate Transportation hearing last week that Caltrans is not gearing up to hire the government engineers that they need to manage road projects cost-effectively. “Quite simply, Caltrans is not hiring. This current year they are only hiring 269 engineers

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