LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
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. Local pavers, excavators, even the companies hired to tell you to slow down and merge left have had one of their busiest years ever, thanks to a storm named Irene. Vermont Public Radio's Nina Keck has more.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCKS ENGINES)
NINA KECK, BYLINE: For the last 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'll just pull off onto the rocky shoulder.
DOUG CASELLA: Well, where's the blacktop?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
STEVE WILK: It's coming.
CASELLA: It's coming?
WILK: Tomorrow morning, we'll pave this, I guess.
WILK: And after tomorrow, they're putting guardrail in.
WILK: And then we're ready for top.
KECK: Wilk owns a small, Rutland-based paving company, while Casella owns a construction firm.
WILK: We had a very slow spring- steady, but slow.
KECK: Then, in late August, Tropical Storm Irene hit with a vengeance. Five-hundred-and-thirty miles of state roads and dozens of bridges were damaged. Wilk says both businesses have been slammed.
WILK: And we're going to be that way, because we've pushed work till next year. And now, going forward, we have a large backlog of work.
KECK: Wilk says he's hired two additional employees and over 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.
WILK: You know, we're not grateful for a disaster, but as far as the economy and us, yeah, it's going to help us.
KECK: Jim Murphy, president of ADA Traffic Control, says Irene pushed their 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 several years.
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KECK: At a quarry in South Wallingford, a steady stream of dump trucks rumble in and out. What with so many gaping holes left by Irene's flooding, quarry manager Chris Carl says crushed rock has become a hot commodity.
CHRIS CARL: Before the storm, we've struggled to get 30-40 trucks a day - after the storm, 100-200. We topped out, best day was 450 trucks. And that was like a truck a minute.
KECK: An unseasonably mild November helped keep sales brisk. While business will slow down over the winter, Carl says come spring, it'll get crazy again.
CARL: Water starts to run again. All the roads that they put in aren't packed like they were when it washed out. So they're going to have to definitely put more material in there, and we're going to be really busy.
KECK: 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's been tricky.
GARY MARTIN: That's the worse part of it - a bad summer to begin with, and then, now we've got plenty of work. We just, you know, the money's slow coming from FEMA and whoever, and a lot of customers just don't have it.
KECK: 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 hopes the paychecks come sooner rather than later.
For NPR news, I'm Nina Keck in Chittenden, Vermont.