It's no coincidence that the two largest projects to break ground in the Midwest last year involved Illinois road work. Employment conditions are dire in Illinois, and lawmakers of every stripe agree improved roads and infrastructure will not only make the state more competitive but create thousands of construction jobs.

Image Courtesy of HKS Architects.
Ohio State University currently has several projects under way, including the North Residential District Transformation in Columbus.

The combined value of the two projects—the new Elgin-O'Hare Expressway and a rebuild of I-90, a northeast artery—is $5.6 billion, and Illinois is only getting started.

Other states may want to follow suit, advises Anirban Basu, chief economist with Washington, D.C.-based Associated Builders and Contractors. "Pricing and interest rates are favorable, relative to more robust economic periods," he says.

Priorities among states vary, however. To keep a lid on taxes, Missouri has indicated it will focus on road maintenance rather than construction once its project pipeline empties next year. "Blue states like Illinois believe public spending benefits the taxpayer," says Basu. "Red states tend to believe otherwise."

Whether public-private partnerships can bridge differences remains to be seen. "To date, we've seen more talk than action in the region," says Ken Simonson, chief economist with Arlington, Va.-based Associated General Contractors of America.

Due to funding gaps, public programs have begun taking a back seat to private ones in parts of the region.

"For the first time in a long time, many Midwest cities have office high-rises in the works," Simonson says.

"July marks a fifth year of economic recovery," says Basu. "Vacancy rates have begun to fall. Occupancy rates are inching upward. We may not see dramatic improvement in the Midwest this year, but we'll see improvement nonetheless."

To see a list of the region's Top Project Starts, click here.