From afar, construction projects can seem strictly as the bailiwick of architects, general contractors and specialty contractors. Sometimes lost in the shuffle is those whom need the facilities and structures in the first place: owners.

Whether it is a high-rise in a major metropolitan area or a rural bridge, owners have needs and it is their interaction with those who provide construction services that truly make the industry hum.

Each year, ENR Southwest selects an Owner of The Year — in consultation with industry experts, the ENR/Dodge Top Starts list, and with my fellow ENR Regional editors as the final arbiters — for the expanse of their work and ability to be a proactive, engaged owner who is vested in its communities.

This year, the ENR Regional editors have selected the Arizona Department of Transportation as the Owner of the Year. Throughout the downturn and thanks to a highways and freeways tax passed by voters in the Phoenix metropolitan area in 2004, ADOT has kept pace of growth.

They are still in the midst of building a new “outer loop” on the west side of the Phoenix metro and have two projects in the Top 25 starts — Loop 202 ($109 million); and  Loop 101 ($72.6 million) in the east portion of the Phoenix metro area. ADOT also succeeded in completing a $6.4 million project to install significant upgrades to freeway management system technology along Loop 101 in time for Super Bowl weekend in Glendale. Improvements included the department's first use of high definition closed-circuit  cameras to help track traffic conditions.

ADOT was also the key player on many of the state’s rural roadways and garnered highway/bridges Best Project in 2014 for their work on State Route 89 which included work done in conjunction with the Navajo Nation. In the future, they are also pursuing Interstate 11 with NDOT and possible passenger rail line from Phoenix to Tucson to provide a transportation alternative to I-10. ADOT has approximately $560 million in current and under-development projects in the state.

Many thanks also go to the runner-up: MGM Resorts International. They successfully negotiated the deal on the much maligned Harmon Tower — a trick many the industry praised despite the controversy on construction methods. Beyond the difficulties they faced with the Harmon, the company has one project on the 2014 Top Starts list: the $375 million MGM/AEG Arena. Currently underway and as an ancillary piece to the arena, is MGM -The Park, a $100 million food service project in Las Vegas. Upcoming is the Mandalay Bay Convention Center renovation at $66 million. MGM Resorts International has approximately $650 million in active/under development projects in the Southwest — almost exclusively in Nevada — that will keep them well positioned in the Top Starts listings for the next couple of years.

We will have an article on ADOT in the March 16 issue of ENR Southwest.

We also will have the list of top construction starts for 2014 in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico. See the preliminary list here and as always, email me with any questions to