Construction Markets StabilizingAt Low Levels During 2012

In its updated 2012 construction market forecast released on July 18, McGraw-Hill Construction sees an uneven recovery. MHC predicts a stronger-than-expected rebound in the housing market and a modest uptick in the private non-residential building market, dampened by continued weakness in the public building and non-building markets. MHC now expects total new construction starts to increase 2.5% in 2012, after an anemic 0.3% gain last year.

The biggest percentage boost comes from housing, which is rebounding from historic lows. Single-family housing is expected to increase 21% in dollar value this year, while multifamily housing will rise 19%. The dollar value of private nonresidential building is set to increase 2% by year-end. Double-digit gains predicted in construction starts for retail, hotels and other commercial sectors are being mostly offset by a 20% decline in manufacturing work and a 2% decline in office-building construction. MHC predicts the institutional building market will decline 10% this year. In the heavy civil engineering sector, the highway and bridge market will decline 12% and environmental work will drop 9%, leaving the overall non-building market 4% below 2011's total.

This year "is shaping up to be more of the same, characterized by a mix of pluses and minuses for major sectors, leaving the overall amount of construction starts basically unchanged," says MHC's chief economist, Robert Murray.

$787 Million in Federal Grants Includes Bus Facility Projects

New bus facility projects are among recipients of $787 million in new Federal Transit Administration grants to U.S. transit systems, announced on July 23. Many of the 255 grants will fund bus purchases. But the total also includes funding for facilities, such as $40 million to replace a 65-year-old bus depot in Baltimore with two green buildings and $17.6 million to begin redeveloping Union Station in Springfield, Mass., into an intermodal transportation center.

Chattanooga Agrees to Upgrade

Under an agreement with federal and Tennessee officials, the city of Chattanooga will begin a $250-million upgrade of its sewer system. Under a proposed consent decree filed on July 17 in U.S. district court in Chattanooga, the city also will pay a $476,000 civil penalty. The deal settles Chattanooga's alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act. The program includes controls on the Chattanooga Creek combined-sewer outfalls. The consent decree is subject to the court's approval.

N.J. Finds Contract Employees Earn Improper State Pensions

Professional service contractors, mostly attorneys but also engineers and others working for New Jersey municipalities, are improperly earning state pension credits, says a July 17 study by state comptroller A. Matthew Boxer. The survey of 58 towns and school districts found 202 private-sector contractors, including 176 attorneys and 21 engineers, ineligible under a 2007 state law for their awarded pension credits. Boxer said, "A review of the remaining 515 municipalities and 597 school districts not included in [the] survey could uncover hundreds of other inappropriately enrolled individuals and millions of additional dollars in pension savings each year." The report cites town officials' lack of knowledge of the law. Joe Fiordaliso, president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies, says members are in compliance, but notes municipal budget pressures in the wake of a 2010 state law capping property tax hikes at 2%.