Inside the highway and bridge industries
Stuck in Slow
By John Latta
There has been no “bump” yet from the new surface transportation legislation, MAP-21, says Alison Premo Black, American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) senior economist and policy VP. At ARTBA’s national convention in Memphis in September, Black suggested that actual spending on highways may fall as the year goes on. Black sees MAP-21 offering “some stability,” but also argues that nominal increases will be eaten away by inflation and rising project and material costs. But, as Black points out, there are no earmarks in MAP-21, an expanded TIFIA promises more private funding and there are project delivery time reforms waiting to kick in.
When it comes to state and local budgets, Black sees marginal improvements in revenues, “but not enough to move the needle in 2012 or 2013.” There is, she says, “still a gap of $55 billion between state revenues and commitments.” But, says Black, some states are at least actively tackling the revenue question with possible new income streams, and some states are actually showing growth. States remain in a battle to try and lower spending, a fight not likely to be quickly over, she says.
Buried ominously in the heart of her analysis of the numbers is a prediction that the highway market continues to struggle, possibly continuing to decline before any noticable climb out, something Black says may be in the 2015 or 2016 cards.
And yet bridge markets are showing surprising strength and we could see a record year. Perhaps not so surprising as bridges, which take so long to build, usually show an upswing with new surface transportation bills.
Looking at the real value of pavement work, Black says there is “quite a bit” of pullback in the market YTD and a pace that looks a lot like last year, which may be good news to many.
Contractors, according to an ARTBA survey, are still not optimistic about the future market, and capacity numbers are not encouraging, making unemployment decreases less likely.
“We’ve got to figure out other ways. For example, I drive a hybrid car and I get about 50 miles to the gallon, I’m not paying my fair share at all. If I get an electric car, I won’t pay anything.”
— Senator Barbara Boxer, talking to Politico about Highway Trust Fund income.