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Highway 65 bypass to shut down in a week

Announcement made at protest today
By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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The Highway 65 bypass project will shut down Jan. 20 if funding is not released, according to officials. That announcement was made by Rich Gates, president of DeSilva Gates Construction, the primary contractor for the $325-million project, at a protest Tuesday at the Holiday Inn Express in Lincoln. The bypass project is an 11.7-mile rerouting of Highway 65 that is planned to reach north of the Twelve Bridges exit and return to the current route at Sheridan, relieving congestion on the current route that runs through downtown Lincoln. More than 100 construction workers, union representatives, public officials and construction managers were at the protest. The protest, according to Kathy Fairbanks, the California Alliance for Jobs spokeswoman, was to urge legislators and Gov. Schwarzenegger to immediately agree on a state budget that would prevent the shutting down of infrastructure projects including the Lincoln bypass. According to Fairbanks, $4 billion is being cut in road, school and levee repair and infrastructure projects throughout the state. “That’s the current plan, based on current info,” Gates said. “If CalTrans can guarantee us the money, we’d go back to work. They’d have to act very quickly.” Gates added that shutting the project down is not something he wants to do, since it will cause his company “to lose all the momentum” and delay the completion date by about a year and a half. CalTrans has asked contractors to continue working, according to Gates. “It’s a state budget issue, not a CalTrans issue,” said Kari Ehrman, spokeswoman for CalTrans. She added that CalTrans has no authority to make that decision, as it rests with the state legislature. Gates said he can not continue to work on the project as funds may not be available for months. “It’s not a surprise,” said Lincoln City Councilman Tom Cosgrove, a longtime advocate of the project, at Tuesday’s protest. “At some point, if the money’s not flowing to keep the project going, it’ll have to shut down.” Cosgrove added that he is “not very confident” that CalTrans and the Legislature will guarantee the money. California Alliance for Jobs Executive Director Jim Earp, Gates and Cosgrove said they were pleased with the number of protestors who turned out to voice their message. “Construction is absolutely critical to California’s economy,” Earp said. “We’re one of the key industries. With the housing collapse and the loss of commercial jobs, public works is all these people have. If we shut it down, it’ll be flat on its back.” Throughout Tuesday’s protest, shouts of “We want to work” and “Lay off the legislators” rose from the assembled, largely out-of-work construction workers. “A lot of these folks behind me should be working,” said Dan Reding, financial secretary of Operating Engineers, a construction union. Several workers behind Reding echoed his sentiments. John Rawlinson, a Lincoln construction worker, said he is having trouble finding a job. “I’m here to help them get this project going,” Rawlinson said, regarding his attendance at the protest. “I’m trying to help these people.” Heath Kellar, represented by Operating Engineers, is currently looking for a job. He said the lack of jobs brought him out to the protest. “The union asked me to come,” Kellar said. “Every job site is shutting down and all the employers I’ve worked for in the past are already laying people off.” Construction worker Robert Gonsalves of Roseville, said he was at Tuesday’s protest “to stand” with his fellow workers and hopefully find some leads to a job. “I got some leads,” Gonsalves said, holding several business cards. “I’m out of work and my unemployment has been cut off.” His wife works for the state and her hours have been cut, making it hard for them to provide for their 16-month-old daughter, Gonsalves said, adding that his mother in-law moved in with them to help with food and gas expenses. Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com