Multifamily housing showed a more varied pattern during 2012 but ended the year with a 15% gain in December.  
Large multifamily projects that supported the December gain included two large apartment buildings in New York City, valued at $500 million and $384 million respectively; a $213-million apartment building in Fort Lee, N.J.; a $125-million student housing project adjacent to Temple University in Philadelphia; and a $118-million renovation to an apartment complex in Venice, Calif.

The 2012 amount for residential building was $163.4 billion, up 29%, which marked a noteworthy change from the modest 4% gain registered in 2011.  Single-family housing in 2012 climbed 29% in dollar terms, versus the 3% decline reported for 2011.

The regional pattern for single-family housing in 2012 showed increases for all five major regions, as follows: the West, up 40%; the Midwest, up 32%; the South Atlantic, up 29%; the South Central, up 23%; and the Northeast, up 15%.

Multifamily housing in 2012 advanced 30%, showing additional growth on top of increases in 2010 (up 21%) and 2011 (up 34%).  By major region, multifamily housing registered this performance in 2012: the West, up 46%; the Northeast, up 35%; the South Central and the South Atlantic, each up 27%; and the Midwest, up 10%. The top five metropolitan areas in terms of the 2012 dollar amount of multifamily starts were New York City, up 45%; Washington, D.C., up 9%; Miami, up 128%; Los Angeles, up 48%; and Boston, up 22%. The large increase for multifamily housing in the West was helped by the 48% gain for Los Angeles, as well as growth in such metropolitan areas as Seattle, up 36%; San Francisco, up 24%; Denver, up 87%; and Phoenix, up 116%.

Nonbuilding Construction

Nonbuilding construction in December soared 42% to $142.5 billion (annual rate), rebounding sharply after its depressed November amount. Much of the December boost came from a 635% jump for the electric-utility category, bouncing back to the elevated contracting witnessed earlier in the year before the sharp retreat in October and November.

Large electric-utility projects that were reported as December starts included a $950-million transmission line project in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and a $945-million solar power plant in California. The public-works sector in December improved 7%, making a partial rebound after sliding 22% in the previous month. The environmental categories strengthened after their depressed performance in November, with sewers up 32%, river/harbor development, up 17%; and water supply systems, up 6%.

Highway construction in December increased 8%, helped by a $360-million segment of the I-95/395 HOV-HOT Lanes project in Virginia and a $101-million shoulder restoration project for the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey.  On the negative side, bridge construction in December was down 6%, and miscellaneous public works, which includes sitework, pipelines, rail lines, etc., slipped 1%.

For the full year 2012, nonbuilding construction grew 2% to $150.5 billion.  Electric utility construction advanced 9%, showing further growth on top of the 53% increase reported for 2011, as this category achieved a new current dollar high at $47.9 billion. The start of work at two nuclear facilities, Units 3 and 4 at the Vogtle Plant in Waynesboro, Ga., and Units 2 and 3 at the V.C. Summer Plant in Jenkinsville, S.C., contributed $17 billion to the 2012 electric utility total.

In addition, transmission line work in 2012 held close to its heightened 2011 amount, but the recent brisk pace for solar and wind power projects began to subside.

Public works construction in 2012 settled back 1%, a much-less severe drop than the 14% decline reported in 2011. A large 35% gain for miscellaneous public works cushioned the extent of the 2012 public-works shortfall; if the miscellaneous public works category is excluded, then the public-works sector in 2012 would be down 8%. Miscellaneous public works in 2012 benefitted from gains for pipeline and rail-related projects.

Highway and bridge construction continued to recede in 2012, with highways down 9% and bridges down 3%. The environmental categories in 2012 were mixed, with river/harbor development and sewers showing respective declines of 20% and 13%, while water supply construction managed to rise 7% from its weak 2011 amount.

The 6% gain for total construction starts at the national level in 2012 was the result of varied behavior at the five-region level. Leading the way was the South Atlantic, up 19%, with much of the upward push coming from the start of the two massive nuclear power projects in Georgia and South Carolina. If these two projects are excluded, then total construction starts in the South Atlantic would be unchanged from the previous year.

Gains for full year 2012 total construction were also reported for the Midwest, up 9%; the South Central, up 7%; and the Northeast, up 2%.  The West was the one major region in 2012 to register a decline for total construction starts, falling 7%.