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Federal stalemate affecting construction projects at BWI

A congressional stalemate has put $681 million worth of Federal Aviation Administration construction projects on ice, including a new radar system for Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The party-line impasse came Friday when the Republican-led House and Democrat-led Senate disagreed over provisions in the FAA’s funding reauthorization and left for the weekend without renewing legislation to keep the administration operating.

“Unless Congress acts quickly, more work on projects critical to our nation’s aviation system will come to a halt,” FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said in a written statement. “Work is stopping on construction and planning projects, [next generation] system testing, and airport certification. The list goes on and on and this is just the beginning.”

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he doesn’t see any progress toward a resolution that would end the shutdown.

“I have no idea when we’ll open the FAA again,” he told reporters Monday.

Air traffic controllers have remained on the job, as have FAA employees who inspect the safety of planes and test pilots. But the airlines’ authority to collect federal ticket taxes has expired, costing FAA about $30 million a day in lost revenue, Babbitt said.

FAA officials furloughed 4,000 employees and issued stop work orders for dozens of projects. The agency’s website said more would come as the shutdown continues.

The administration stopped a pair of BWI contracts to prepare for the installation of ASDE-X, a new radar system that allows air traffic controllers to better guide planes on the airport’s tarmac and runways.

The FAA stopped the $2.3 million contract of The Chappy Corp., a Massachusetts electrical and mechanical contractor working on the BWI project. A Chappy executive did not return a call seeking comment Monday. The $91,500 contract of AKAL Security Inc. was also put on hold.

BWI spokesman Jonathan Dean said other projects are still proceeding as planned.

“Near-term, the effect is minimal,” Dean said. “There is no safety impact for travelers and airlines. The air traffic control personnel and other safety officials are essential, so there will be no effect there. Should the impasse drag on for weeks or longer, then the effect would become more significant.”

He added that work on a $40 million project that will repave the area between C and D concourses and replace old pipes and wiring there was still taking place, for now.

And the airport is also still planning to shut down its two main runways for 54 hours Sept. 9-12 to repave the intersection of the strips. Flights will be diverted to the airport’s third runway during that time.

Long-term funding authority for the FAA expired in 2007. Unable to agree on new long-term funding legislation for the agency, Congress has kept the FAA operating through a series of 20 short-term extension bills.

The Senate passed a long-term bill in February, and the House approved a different version in April. Lawmakers have resolved most of the differences between the bills, but no progress has been made on a half dozen other issues.

Among their key differences are air service subsidies for rural communities and a Republican proposal that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize.

“Because of their inaction, states and airports won’t be able to work on their construction projects, and too many people will have to go without a paycheck,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.