Economic future

Nov. 17, 2009

The new green in the road and bridge industry still means green for local developers, businesses and community leaders at the state level.

The new green in the road and bridge industry still means green for local developers, businesses and community leaders at the state level.

Kansas recently announced it will consider the economic impact of future transportation projects before giving them, well, the green light. When the state tackled its latest transportation plan, called the Comprehensive Transportation Program, in 1999, the economic benefits of potential highway and road jobs had a role, but it was small and quite subjective. In addition to weighing in crash rates, traffic volume and pavement condition, a panel of experts traveled around the state and assigned an economic score to each one.

“The results of those scores, a lot of them were very similar,” Kyle Schneweis, director of governmental affairs for the Kansas DOT, told Roads & Bridges. “Out of 20 possible points, they all scored between 12 and 16.”

“Economic” is quickly becoming the new hot word in the marketplace, replacing the environment movement that has dominated the last half-decade.

According to Schneweis, a few other DOTs, like Wisconsin, have implemented similar analyses. Some are looking at the economic benefits across the entire program, while others, like KDOT, are looking at it on a project-by-project basis.

KDOT is using an economic model called Tretis. As projects are inputted, the model spits out how many jobs would be created, what the level of income growth would be and overall economic growth each project would carry.

“We divide the benefits by the cost and then define a score based on that,” said Schneweis. “We are trying to get the projects on a square playing field.”

However, it is not as simple as the top one, two or three. Schneweis emphasized that the goal of the economic impact program is not to create a list and commit to the leading ones, but rather to add it to other variables, like geographic distributions and assuring that the work is spread throughout the state when deciding to move forward on a project.

“This list and scoring gives us a chance to get our priorities out there,” said Schneweis.

The economic impact movement actually started back in 2006, when KDOT was updating its long-range transportation plan. The agency then conducted case studies two years later to see the economic impacts brought about from past projects.

“When you see some of those benefits you begin to think, wow, you know this is without any analysis, and now we can target that analysis towards projects where we might see even better benefits.”

The program, however, is still not official. Gov. Mark Parkinson’s task force, called the T-LINK Task Force, comprising transportation experts and business and community leaders, will have a chance to weigh in on it this month, and there also is a special state legislative committee on transportation that will look it over.

Economy: Construction to grow 11% in 2010

The level of construction starts in 2010 is expected to climb 11%, according to McGraw-Hill Construction’s 2010 Construction Outlook, to $466.2 billion following a predicted decline of 25% for 2009.

“The U.S. construction market in 2010 will be helped by growth for several sectors, following three straight years of decline that brought total construction activity down 39% from its mid-decade peak,” said Robert Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. “The benefits from the stimulus act will broaden in scope, lifting not just highway construction but also environmental public works and several institutional structure types.”

Highlights of the outlook report include a projected 14% rise in public-works construction, with strength across all project types.

Environment: AGC agreement calls for diesel cleanup in highway projects

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force (CATF) jointly called on Congress in mid-October to give state officials both the authority and funding to require the use of clean construction equipment at federally funded transportation projects.

The two groups called for required reductions via contract change orders that cover 100% of the cost for contractors, following the award of a project to the lowest bidder.

The association joined CATF, which has been a leader in pressing for cleanup of diesel engines, in announcing a new set of “Clean Construction Principles” on which the two organizations agree. The groups called on Congress, which is reviewing transportation legislation, to authorize states to require diesel-emissions reductions and cover the cost of retrofitting or repowering equipment manufactured to meet earlier emission standards.

Under the new principles, states would first require successful bidders for federally funded transportation projects to identify the off-road diesel equipment they plan to use. After exploring EPA-approved options for reducing diesel emissions, states would issue change orders requiring contractors to pursue the best of those options. States would give priority to projects located in areas with poor air quality, and the change orders would entitle contractors to recover 100% of their costs.

Sandherr noted that the association and its chapters were investing up to $7 million this year to reduce diesel emissions from construction equipment. He added that the construction of new and more efficient buildings, factories and transportation networks continues to be one of the most effective ways to protect the environment.

Economy: Construction spending up a baby step in Aug.

Construction spending during August was estimated by the U.S. Commerce Department at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $941.9 billion, 0.8% above the revised July estimate of $934.6 billion. The August figure is 11.6% below the August 2008 estimate of $1,066.1 billion.

During the first eight months of this year, construction spending amounted to $629.5 billion, 11.9% below the $714.3 billion for the same period in 2008.

Public construction spending edged down in August to $319.8 billion, 1.1% below the revised July estimate of $323.5 billion. Highway construction was at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $85.2 billion, 0.8% above the revised July estimate of $84.5 billion.

Stimulus: Obama and LaHood spotlight Virginia’s largest ARRA project

President Barack Obama joined U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood at the site of the Fairfax County Parkway Extension in Virginia on Oct. 14 to announce that more than 8,000 highway projects have been funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) since its passage in February.

“What makes these kinds of projects so important isn’t just that we’re creating so many jobs. It’s that we’re putting Americans to work doing the work that America needs done. We are rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges and waterways,” said Obama. “We are strengthening our nation’s infrastructure in ways that will leave lasting benefits in our communities, making them stronger, making them safer and making them better places to live.”

Of the nearly $27 billion available for highway projects through the Recovery Act, $19.5 billion has been obligated for 8,050 projects. As of Oct. 9, 2009, 4,760 highway projects were under construction.

The Fairfax County Parkway Extension project is adding much-needed capacity to a route that will serve nearly 66,900 daily drivers by 2011, an increase of nearly 10% over current levels. At an estimated $140 million, it is Virginia’s largest ARRA-funded project.

The project’s first two phases—valued at $80 million—began construction last year, supporting 114 workers. Phase 4 received $22.8 million in ARRA funding and will support an estimated 57 workers. Phase 3, anticipated to begin construction later this year, is expected to rely on $37.1 million in ARRA dollars and will support an estimated 50 workers.

While at the site, Obama and LaHood met with workers of Cherry Hill Construction Inc., the primary contractor on the project’s Phases 1, 2 and 4.

Tunnel: $341M goes to Miami Tunnel

Congestion relief and improved traffic safety are one step closer to reality in downtown Miami as a result of the U.S. DOT’s $341 million loan approval to build the Port of Miami Tunnel, giving cargo trucks and tourist buses better access to the port.

The tunnel will serve as a direct connector to and from the Port of Miami. As a result, this tunnel will remove thousands of commercial trucks and cruise-line buses from local streets, improving traffic flow and safety for vehicles and pedestrians in Miami’s busy city center.

The planned tunnel will link the port to the widened MacArthur Causeway (State Rte. A1A) and to I-395. The entire tunnel project will be 3.6 miles in length with two lanes in each direction.

Improved access will help the Port of Miami, a center for trade with Latin America and the Caribbean and a major tourist destination, stay competitive and handle the projected growth of cargo and cruise operations. The facility is currently the largest container port in Florida and the ninth largest in the U.S., handling containers worth $50 billion annually in trade merchandise. It also is a leading economic generator in Miami-Dade County for jobs and revenue.

The Miami Access Tunnel, a group of private companies, will receive the $341 million loan under the U.S. DOT’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan program to build and operate the tunnel in partnership with the Florida DOT. The loan will go toward the total project cost of more than $1 billion.

Highway: Rolling recollections

Motorists will soon be able to share stories about their favorite roads on a new website,, by the Asphalt Institute (AI).

It is a site for people who are passionate about their driving experience, said AI. will draw attention to the roads that drivers like best and why. When posting a photo or story, users will be prompted to also indicate the pavement type of the road.

“We are excited about the launch of This initiative will create positive PR through testimonials about the public’s enthusiasm for great roads and their realization that their favorite roads are paved with asphalt,” said Peter Grass, president of the AI. will launch early this month. Marketing efforts to the general driving public will begin in January 2010.

Awards: Bentley gets inspired

Bentley Systems Inc. last month announced the winners of its 2009 Be Inspired Awards at Be Inspired: Infrastructure Best Practices Symposium and Awards, an invitation-only gathering of top users of the company’s software from around the globe.

The 17 winners were announced during a dinner and awards ceremony.

“The Be Inspired Awards honor and celebrate outstanding infrastructure projects from around the globe,” CEO Greg Bentley said in congratulating the winners. “Each is benchmark-setting, accomplished through innovative information modeling technology and best practices, successfully implemented by talented and imaginative infrastructure professionals.”

Bentley has posted highlights of this year’s winning projects on its website ( and will include detailed descriptions of all nominated projects in “The Year in Infrastructure 2009.”

The Be Inspired Award winners for 2009 in the transportation industry are as follows:

  • Innovation in Bridges: WSP Finland Ltd.—Ngyuen Van Troi-Tran Thi Ly Bridge;
  • Innovation in Campuses, Airports and Military Installations: CH2M Hill—Phase 1: O’Hare Modernization Program;
  • Innovation in Rail and Transit: Parsons Brinckerhoff—Central Phoenix/East Valley Light Rail System;
  • Innovation in Roads: Creighton Manning Engineering LLP— Rte. 85 Slingerlands Bypass Extension;
  • Communicating Through Visualization: Mott MacDonald Ltd.—The Model Railway.

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