Federal, state and local spending on roadways is down nearly 6 percent. That's made it a tough year for many in the road-building business — but not in Vermont. There, pavers, excavators and other companies have had one of their busiest years ever, thanks to a storm named Irene.
For the past several months, Steve Wilk and Doug Casella have spent a lot of time in and out of their pickup trucks, checking on their road crews. For a business meeting, they just pull off onto the rocky shoulder to talk about new guardrails and blacktop for a job they're working on.
Wilk owns a small paving company based in Rutland, Vt. Casella owns a construction firm.
"We had a very slow spring," Wilk says. "Steady, but slow."
Then in late August, Tropical Storm Irene hit with a vengeance. Wilk says that with 530 miles of state roads and dozens of bridges damaged, businesses have been slammed.
"And we're going to be that way because we pushed work till next year," he says. "Going forward, we have a large backlog of work."
Wilk says he's hired two additional employees and more than a dozen subcontractors. He's also been able to buy $150,000 worth of new equipment — things that had been on his wish list for a while.
"You know, we're not grateful for a disaster," he says. "But as far as the economy and us — yeah, it's going to help us."
Jim Murphy, president of ADA Traffic Control, says that Irene pushed his company's revenues up 40 to 50 percent. Murphy's company is one of several in Vermont that provides traffic signs, orange cones and brightly dressed flaggers. He and others in the industry expect the upswing to continue for the next three years.
At a quarry in South Wallingford, a steady stream of dump trucks rumbles in and out. With so many gaping holes left by Irene's flooding, quarry manager Chris Carl says crushed rock has become a hot commodity.
"Before the storm, we struggled to get 30-40 trucks a day. Two days after, 100-200," Carl says. "We topped out, best day was 450 trucks. And that was like a truck a minute."
An unseasonably mild November helped keep sales brisk. While business will slow down over the winter, Carl says that come spring, it'll get crazy again.
"Water starts to run again. All the roads that they put in aren't packed like they were when it washed out," he says. "So they're going to definitely have to put more material in there. And we're going to be really busy."
Local contractor Gary Martin lets his truck rumble on the scale while he settles up for a load of gravel in the quarry office. All the extra work's been good, he says. It's getting paid that has been tricky.
"That's the worse part of it," he says. "Bad summer to begin with. Now we've got plenty of work, but the money is slow coming from FEMA, and customers just don't have it."
Martin says it's a problem facing many contractors. Heading back out to his truck, he says he's just trying to fit in as much work as possible before winter sets in. And he hopes the paychecks come sooner, rather than later.