Steel tariffs could bring higher construction prices in Illinois
As details coalesce around President Donald Trump's tariff clampdown on steel, local builders and Republican congressmen are uneasy about fallout affecting suburban projects, jobs and consumers.
The president Thursday formally announced 25 percent tariffs on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum, saying it would end unfair trade practices and protect American workers.
"If you don't have steel, you don't have a country," he said.
Trump indicated exemptions could be bestowed on Canada, Mexico and other allies.
"Any time the government raises the price of labor or materials, we would have concerns with that," Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association CEO Michael Sturino said.
Tariffs on steel, which is used extensively in bridge-building, "will increase the cost of materials and make projects cost more, and ultimately mean less improvements for infrastructure," Sturino predicted. For every $1 spent on road or bridge construction, 10 cents are spent on steel, the association reported.
Canada and Mexico, along with European and Asian trading partners, have protested the policy, and several countries have promised retaliatory tariffs.
That pushback is something Republican congressmen Peter Roskam of Wheaton and Randy Hultgren of Plano want to avoid.
Tariffs are of concern "especially when our economy is experiencing robust growth," Hultgren said.
"Free trade has helped this country to prosper, and protectionist policies like tariffs could set off trade wars with our partners and ultimately increase the price of products we produce here for consumers," Hultgren said.
Roskam thinks that "while we must stop countries like China from dumping steel in our market ... (tariffs) could hurt companies, employees and consumers in my district.
"American workers deserve a trade policy that won't disrupt their workflow nor impede their ability to compete internationally," Roskam said, adding exemptions for Canada and Mexico were a start.
Trump contended "we have to protect and build our steel and aluminum industries while at the same time showing great flexibility toward those that are really friends of ours both on a trade basis and a military basis."
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, which represents workers throughout the region, has 600 members working in steel mills.
"Increased domestic production is likely to not only support those jobs but create new ones," spokesman Ed Maher said.
Illinois tollway and Illinois Department of Transportation officials said they would evaluate and monitor developments.
The tollway is in the seventh year of a $12 billion road building program. Steel tariffs at this point would have a minimal impact, "particularly since prices for domestic and imported steel were already rising and those costs were reflected in current price estimates and bids," tollway spokesman Dan Rozek said.
IDOT planners don't "anticipate increased prices of foreign steel to significantly impact our work since we are required to buy steel domestically per the Buy America Act and Illinois Street Products Procurement Act," spokeswoman Gianna Urgo said.
But private-sector groups such as the Associated General Contractors of America warned steep tariffs will add to the spiraling cost of materials, put some contractors out of business and cause project costs to skyrocket.
Got an opinion on tariffs or other transportation issues? Drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You should know
After Volkswagen's emissions scandal where diesel engines were rigged to pass U.S. tests, a settlement was reached with nearly $109 million earmarked for Illinois. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency recently posted its plan to use the funds to reduce pollution by replacing outdated diesel engines on locomotives, buses, trucks and ferries with "clean" diesel, electric or alternative fuel options. To learn more, go to epa.illinois.gov/topics/air-quality/vw-settlement.
Critics, however, say the IEPA is moving too fast and failed to involve the public in the decision-making. A House resolution backed by groups such as the Illinois Alternative Fuels Alliance seeks the IEPA to withdraw its plan, hold public hearings across the state to gather input and form a task force of stakeholders to advise the agency.
Watch for overnight ramp closures at the I-290 interchange with Route 390 between 1 and 5 a.m. Tuesday. The Illinois tollway is installing traffic sensors. Detours will be posted.
Wear green, take Metra
Suburbanites heading to Chicago's St. Patrick's Day Parade Saturday are being urged to take Metra downtown to avoid traffic. The railroad will add extra trains and rail cars Saturday to accommodate parade crowds. Alcohol is prohibited on trains Saturday and cyclists are warned that some trains may be too packed for bikes. Riders should expect slower boarding times with the extra passengers. For more information on schedules, go to metrarail.com.