Though it may be another year before the full effects of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act are felt nationwide, the $305-billion funding measure enacted in December 2015 already has provided many of the sector’s contractors with something they have not experienced in quite a while: a sense of stability.
Having five years of guaranteed federal dollars is expected to help state DOTs shed, at least somewhat, the past decade’s largely patchwork approach to project implementation. Many states already had picked up the funding slack through their own gas-tax increases and other initiatives.
While a budget dispute froze most summer road construction work in the Garden State, other DOTs have spent 2016 catching up on their burgeoning infrastructure-renewal backlogs and, in some cases, launch major programs. Among them are the $1.5-billion “Project Neon” overhaul of the I-15/U.S. Route 95 interchange in Las Vegas and the $1-billion reconstruction of I-75 in Detroit.
Local proposals for transportation-related bond issues and sales-tax increases are also on the rise, observes Jim Roberts, president and CEO of Granite Construction Co., Watsonville, Calif., which is leading the 5.5-mile, $151-million Southeast Connector project in Washoe County, Nev. Bringing such programs to the municipal level, Roberts says, “allows citizens to see exactly what’s being built, which hopefully translates to greater support.”
Rail projects are also keeping contractors busy. Upgrades are underway for the $1.1-billion St. Louis-to-Chicago higher-speed rail system in Illinois. In south Florida, the privately-developed $3.1-billion Brightline will initiate service between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2017, while work continues on an extension to Orlando.
Construction also kicked off this summer for TEXRail a new, 27-mile commuter link between Fort Worth and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
And despite continued scrutiny over rising costs, the California High-Speed Rail project released three major contracts for the state’s central valley, including a $1.4-billion award to a Flatiron Construction-led joint venture.
Flatiron CEO John DiCiurcio credits the proliferation of rail projects to the federal government’s long-standing support, and efforts by states and localities to provide mobility alternatives in high-growth areas. “If you have a large population, a growing population, and transportation bond measures, you generally have a big pipeline of opportunities,” he says.
Contractors are also finding opportunities at the nation’s airports, especially those with passenger terminals and other facilities that have outlived their intended life. The $4-billion overhaul of New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, and San Francisco’s $2.4-billion renovation of its 1960s-era Terminal 1, both kicked off in 2016, while Denver began negotiations for a long-term upgrade of Jeppesen Terminal. Other major expansion programs are underway in Orlando, Atlanta, and Chicago.
While contractors feel more investment is needed, they’re hopeful the market's new stability will lure workers back to the industry.