Bubbling Up

March 22, 2007

“Immigration bubble” may some day join “baby boom” in the lexicon of American population dynamics.

A large influx of immigrants is one of the major factors affecting commuting in America, according to Commuting in America III, the latest 10-year analyis of commuting trends. The report was authored by transportation consultant Alan Pisarski and published by the Transportation Research Board.

“Immigration bubble” may some day join “baby boom” in the lexicon of American population dynamics.

A large influx of immigrants is one of the major factors affecting commuting in America, according to Commuting in America III, the latest 10-year analyis of commuting trends. The report was authored by transportation consultant Alan Pisarski and published by the Transportation Research Board.

In fact, the 2000 census, which provides the data for Pisarski’s analysis, found that the actual number of immigrants arriving in America during the 1990s was 31 million instead of the 25 million projected by the 1990 census.

Ironically, the influx of immigrants may not increase commuting congestion as much as it might, because recent immigrants are more likely to carpool, according to the study. Although immigrants make up less than 14% of all workers, they represent about 40% of those in large car pools of four to six people. The percentage is particularly high among Hispanic immigrants.

“I think the carpooling thing . . . is related to the kinds of occupations that a lot of the people get involved in, either factory work or very frequently construction,” Pisarski told Roads & Bridges. “Obviously if you’re working out in the distant suburbs building houses you’re typically not going to have a bus that goes out to an empty space.”

The personal vehicle is still the most common way to go to work. The number of new solo drivers grew by almost 13 million during the 1990s.

The number of workers with commutes lasting more than 60 minutes grew by almost 50%. More Americans are leaving for work between 5 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., and more are leaving their home county to work in a nearby county.

The general direction of commutes also shifted, the report said. From 1990 to 2000, about 64% of the growth in commuting in metropolitan areas was from suburb to suburb, while the traditional commute from suburbs to a central city grew by only 14%.

“The growth in people commuting from the center city to the suburbs was greater than the growth in people commuting from the suburbs in,” Pisarski said. “The total who commute from the suburbs in is still greater than the reverse.”

Growing slowest of all was the commute within the central city.

People also are working longer. The number of workers age 65 and over has risen by 21.6%, according to Pisarski. The number of people age 65 and over rose by only 12% between 1990 and 2000 and continues to rise today.

“I looked at what has happened since 2000 through 2005, and it looks like about the same precentages, that the growth rate of workers [65 and over] will come out at the end of the decade to be very close to that 21%.”

Immigrants entering the work force might help offset the large number of baby boomers—who will start turning 65 in 2010—exiting the work force in coming years, according to Commuting in America III.

Pisarski had no doubt that congestion would continue, but he speculated that commuter congestion might actually dip as baby boomers retire.

“It would seem that we have this new situation where we’re going to be concerned about finding enough commuters rather than having too many.”

Winning votes

Voters in six states backed ballot issues supporting transportation in the Nov. 7 elections, approving all seven items by substantial margins, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported. The statewide ballot initiatives will provide more than $20 billion in additional funding for transportation, not including local funding proposals.

California voters approved two: one (Proposition 1A) to require receipts from the state sales tax on motor vehicles to be spent on transportation improvements and “protect” funding for congestion relief, safety improvements and local roads and streets and another (Proposition 1B) to issue bonds of up to $19.9 billion for a series of road-safety, congestion-relief, air-quality and security-related transportation improvements.

Georgia voters approved Constitutional Amendment 3 to let the state issue special license plates and dedicate revenue streams from the sale of the tags for specified purposes.

In Louisiana, voters backed Amendment 4, a ballot proposal to remove local governments’ right to place an ad valorem tax on motor vehicles, while in Minnesota, voters approved a state constitutional amendment for a five-year, phased-in dedication of revenue from a tax on the sale of new and used motor vehicles to public transit assistance (at least 40% of the tax) and highway projects (not more than 60%).

New Jersey voters passed Public Question 3, a state constitutional amendment to dedicate 10.5 cents per gal of the existing motor-fuels tax (the entire state tax on gasoline and most of the 13.5 cents per gal now charged for diesel fuel) to funding the state transportation system, an increase from the current 9 cents per gal.

Rhode Island voters approved Question 5, which called for issuance of $88.5 million in bonds for work on roads and bridges, commuter rail and new buses for the public transit authority’s fleet.

At the local level, ARTBA reported, voters approved eight initiatives to extend or renew an existing sales tax for transportation purposes. Of the 12 proposals for new taxes for transportation, eight were approved and four were defeated. In two cases, voters agreed to increase existing sales or property taxes for transportation purposes. However, a highway bond initiative in Stafford, Va., was defeated. In Spokane County, Wash., voters defeated two advisory questions on transit funding.

Facing the future

The U.S. transportation construction industry has a bold new vision to help address America’s surface transportation challenges, and the federal government must continue to play a key role in ensuring a safe and efficient national road network in the post-Interstate Highway System era. That was the message the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) delivered Nov. 16 to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.

ARTBA’s 2006 chairman, Mike Walton, testified on ARTBA’s behalf at a commission hearing in New York City called to discuss the current conditions, future needs and financing alternatives for the nation’s transportation system. The commission was established under provisions in SAFETEA-LU.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. population is expected to reach 400 million people by 2043. This reality will have serious consequences for the future mobility of motorists, ARTBA testified.

“Between now and 2043, based on current highway investment and usage trends, U.S. highway capacity will only grow 9%, but traffic levels will balloon by 135% to more than 7 trillion vehicle-miles traveled annually,” Walton said. “As a result, the average motorist can expect to spend 160 hours stuck in traffic delays, or the equivalent of four weeks each year—a 112-hour-per-year increase in lost time from the current level.”

The Associated General Contractors of America’s Senior Vice President Steve Massie also testified at the hearing, declaring that the current system is failing: the Highway Trust Fund is in precarious financial shape and could be in deficit as early as 2009; and the buying power of Trust Fund dollars continues to be significantly eroded by inflation.

Massie identified highway and bridge improvement needs but pointed out that inflation will make the gap between identified needs and available revenue even greater. He presented the construction materials cost inflation analysis of AGC’s chief economist, Ken Simonson, which explains that prices for highway construction materials have been rising at a rate higher than inflation—nearly three to four times as fast.

Massie pointed out that these recent material price spikes show how vulnerable available funding is to the vagaries of inflation and market conditions. Highway construction material prices have increased by 35.9% over the past three years compared with a 9.6% increase in general consumer prices over this same period. Massie’s testimony also pointed out the cost of construction is likely to increase for other reasons, including the complex nature of rebuilding and expanding existing roads under traffic, uncertainty about future labor costs, new environmental and other regulatory requirements and other factors.

Among his recommendations for the future of the federal role in the nation’s surface transportation program, Massie called for the creation of a revenue commission, similar to that of the postal rate commission, to fund investments in the system. The commission would meet regularly, evaluate revenue options and establish the levy for the coming year or two. This recommendation would remove the decision-making process on revenue from the political process.

Intensity up, consumption down

According to the most recent forecast from the Economic Research department at the Portland Cement Association (PCA), although cement consumption is not projected to decline, only marginal gains are expected.

The fall forecast, presented in early November at the PCA board of directors meeting in Sea Island, Ga., by chief economist Ed Sullivan, revises cement consumption growth for 2006 to an increase of .6%. An even more modest growth rate of .3% is expected in 2007 with more robust trends returning in 2008 when cement consumption is projected to increase by 2.7%.

The flattening of the market, according to Sullivan, is the combined result of the decline in the housing industry and softer overall economic conditions.

“In recent years, the U.S. and the cement industry have experienced unprecedented growth,” said Sullivan. “However, construction activity is starting to soften and this will create an adverse impact on cement consumption.”

Sullivan sees cement intensity growth as key to market growth during the next couple of years. Cement intensities refer to the tons of cement per dollar of construction activity.

“Our forecast projects that cement intensities will increase by 2% in 2007, fueled by a favorable relative price position versus asphalt and steel, as well as a shift towards higher-cement-usage construction projects,” Sullivan said. “Code changes in hurricane-prone regions, improved concrete products and concrete growth as a ‘green’ building material will all contribute to this despite a decrease in construction activity.”

Cimline acquires Duraco Industries

Cimline Inc. of Plymouth, Minn., in mid-November acquired Duraco Industries Inc. of Jackson, Miss., manufacturer of the Dura Patcher, an injection-type road-repairing machine. This product line will join Cimline’s Magma Series melter/applicators, EQUIPT seal-coating systems and other products used for pavement restoration and repair. The purchase will elevate the combined companies to the No. 1 position in worldwide distribution and service.

“The Dura Patcher is a natural fit with our existing product line and enjoys the same industry-leading technology as our Cimline products,” said Mark Hefty, president of Plymouth Industries, manufacturers of the Cimline and Garlock brands.

Echoing Hefty’s enthusiasm, continuing Duraco President and founder Bob Gilchrist added, “This is a great opportunity for the Dura Patcher line to move forward with a company that embodies the same values of quality, technical superiority and world-class service that built Duraco.”

Gilchrist, General Manager David Sifton and Sales Manager Nat Alford join Cimline Vice President Brad Dunn and Sales Manager Steve Johnson in the management of the combined product lines.

Bridge designs recognized

The Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) has singled out 23 buildings and bridges throughout North America to be honored in its 2006 Design Awards Competition. The awards program, in its 44th year, honored 12 buildings and 11 bridges.

The winning buildings included several highlighted for their attention to sustainable-design techniques, while three others won awards for their use of all-precast concrete structures. Bridge winners included several all-precast concrete bridges, three categories of bridges divided by span lengths, two owner-designed bridges, two rehabilitated bridges and decorative sound barriers.

“Each year, the PCI Design Awards competition shows how designers are continuing to push the capabilities of precast, prestressed concrete components to achieve more cost-effective, aesthetically pleasing and quickly constructed projects,” said James G. Toscas, PCI president.

“Precasters in turn are responding to these needs, as can be seen in several new products created by precasters in these winning entries that will aid the construction industry for many years to come.”

Two projects were singled out by the Special Awards Jury to win the Harry H. Edwards Industry Advancement Award, which is presented to specific projects that create distinctive innovation and new techniques that aid the construction industry. This year, the judges selected the Two Buckhead Plaza office building in Atlanta and the I-90 Bridge over Door Creek in Madison, Wis., to receive this award.

The Best All-Precast Concrete Solution award for the use of an all-precast concrete structural system was awarded to the Detroit Opera House Parking Center, the Davis Narrows Bridge in Brooksville-Penobscot, Maine, and to the Flannery Construction headquarters in St. Paul, Minn.

Additional bridges singled out for individual category awards included: County Road 453 over Battleground Creek Bridge, Coupland, Texas; Arapaho Road Bridge, Addison, Texas; Arbor Road Bridge, Lincoln, Neb.; State Route 148/Mountain Stream, Lookout Mountain, Tenn.; Monroe Street Bridge, Spokane, Wash.; Richmond-San Rafael Toll Bridge, Marin and Contra Costa counties, Calif.; S. 317th Street HOV Direct Access Bridge, Federal Way, Wash.; CSXT Bridge No. 23 over St. Louis, Mo.; and Maryland 216 Sound-Barrier Project, Howard County, Md.

—edited by Stephanie Harris

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