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Hidden Damage in US Bridges Could Place Public at Risk

Observations about 2018…

Observations about 2018

By Greg Sitek

The construction markets enter a year that will most likely offer more opportunity than in decades.

“The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season will long be remembered as one of the busiest and most destructive hurricane seasons on record.  This placed 2017 among the top 10 most active Atlantic seasons on record, according to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, a tropical scientist at Colorado State University.


“California firefighters started the year still fighting blazes from 2017, including the Thomas Fire, the single largest wildfire in California history.

“Even as the Eastern United States braces for a massive winter storm, fire conditions still linger in Southern California, and only a light drizzle is in sight this week to quench dry brush in one of the driest seasons on record for the region.

“Officials report that the Thomas Fire burned nearly 282,000 acres across Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, about 1.6 times the size of New York City…

“The fire destroyed more than 1,000 structures; it also claimed the life of a firefighter on December 14 and is blamed for two other deaths. Soot and ash from the flames led to record-high air pollution in the region, making it too dangerous to even be outside.

It’s a tragic finale to what has already been California’s worst fire season, as several huge, deadly infernos burned uncontrolled for days across the state. (https://www.vox.com/2017/12/27/16822180/thomas-fire-california-largest-wildfire)

As noted above the Eastern United States was subjected to severe winter/snow storms while California took another hit as mudslides caused even more damage. John Trotti, editor at Forester Publication, lives in Santa Barbara posted on his T-Gram Thomas Fire Blog the following:

“According to California Attorney General records, there are 12,000 businesses in Santa Barbara County with 150,000 employees. In my estimation, two-thirds of these (8,000 and 100,000 respectively) are situated on the county’s south coast. Of those 100,000 employees, my guess is that 20,000 live in the North County and another 30,000 in Ventura County or points south, this latter cluster pretty well locked out from their jobs and with some exceptions their paychecks. True, there is the recently restored train service capable of transporting 2,000 people per day, along with hastily initiated charter boat services, good for another several hundred passengers.

“For the vast majority of commuters, however, the only option is a four hour (minimum) drive east to Interstate 5, up over the Grapevine to Bakersfield, west to Paso Robles, and then South again to Santa Barbara, Such a sojourn makes no sense unless its participant has a place to stay in the Santa Barbara area…

“As for business owners, the situation requires decisions, some with dire economic consequences in answer to such questions as, “Can I get along without a portion of my staff,” and, “Can I continue to pay salaries for those who can’t get to work?” Being a tourist destination of some renown, much of the area’s economy is dependent on the 200,000 per day traffic load on Hwy. 101, the month and a half disruption of which has had severe consequences on nearly all its retail establishments, a goodly number of which have already closed their doors.

“My point in this is that what is missing most from news portrayals of the Thomas Fire/Flood disaster is the sense of the turmoil that underlies the day-to-day lives of not just the people directly affected, but those on the periphery whose lives have been impacted in ways over which they exercise no control or perhaps even comprehend.”

All of these plus other disasters throughout the country are demanding attention putting the need for waste, debris and rubble removal, and processing at an all-time high along with infrastructure repair and replacement, commercial, institutional, industrial buildings and housing at an all-time high.

Overcoming the shortages – materials, equipment, and people — will be among the greatest challenges the industry faces in 2018.

Will 2018 Meet Expectations?

Will 2018 Meet Expectations?

By Greg Sitek

The future of the U.S. is shrouded in confusion, hostility, distrust, threats, uncertainty, criticism, discord, disasters, failing infrastructure, and an almost endless list of problems. But even so, we are experiencing a growing economy high employment rates, low inflation rates, strong housing market and an equally long list of positive things.

The U.S. ended 2017 with having a string of hurricanes – Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria – that caused around $200 Billion dollars in damages only to be followed by a season of fires that destroyed thousands of homes, building, thousands of acres of forests and intensified the stress on an exhausted infrastructure.

Thanks to the thousands of people who have and continue to pitch in with physical help, equipment, materials and supplies hurricane recovery and rebuilding is underway but will take years to accomplish. Groups like Team Rubicon and other veteran organizations along with donations of money and equipment by manufacturers, trade association, dealers, individuals and so many others have made it possible to push ahead with what is an overwhelming task. Healing is always a slow process.

In addition to the tests thrown at us by Mother Nature, we have had a cascade of political and social speed bumps adding hazards as we travel our road into the future slowing the forward momentum and intensifying the risk.

We know what 2017 was like. What can we expect for 2018 and beyond?

Economic forecasting is always tricky and unlike weather forecasting more critically important, especially for the forecaster. We’ve all heard the comment, “Being a weather forecaster is the only job where you can be wrong most of the time and not get fired.” This doesn’t apply to the economists who look at the conditions that are, that were and that will be.

Predictions for 2018 tend to be positive with most economists confident that we will sustain continued and improved national economic growth. I haven’t heard any of them forecasting a recession in the immediate future – the next six months and beyond.

We have included construction industry forecast from leading resources: Wells Fargo Economics Group, American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC). There are many others who do an excellent job of industry forecasting.

On that I wish we could have included but didn’t have room is:

Dodge Data & Analytics (https://www.construction.com/) recently released its 2018 Dodge Construction Outlook, a mainstay in construction industry forecasting and business planning. The report predicts that total U.S. construction starts for 2018 will climb 3% to $765 billion.

“The U.S. construction industry has moved into a mature stage of expansion,” stated Robert Murray, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics. “After rising 11% to 13% per year from 2012 through 2015, total construction starts advanced a more subdued 5% in 2016. An important question entering 2017 was whether the construction industry had the potential for further expansion. Several project types, including multifamily housing and hotels, have pulled back from their 2016 levels, but the current year has seen continued growth by single-family housing, office buildings, and warehouses. In addition, the institutional segment of the nonresidential building has been quite strong, led especially by transportation terminal projects in combination with gains for schools and healthcare facilities. As for public works, the specifics of a $1 trillion infrastructure program by the Trump Administration have yet to materialize, so activity continues to hover around basically the plateau for construction starts reached a couple of years ago. Total construction starts in 2017 are estimated to climb 4% to $746 billion.”

“For 2018, there are several positive factors which suggest that the construction expansion has further room to proceed,” Murray continued. “The U.S. economy next year is anticipated to see moderate job growth. Long-term interest rates may see some upward movement but not substantially. While market fundamentals for commercial real estate won’t be quite as strong as this year, funding support for construction will continue to come from state and local bond measures. Two areas of uncertainty related to whether tax reform and a federal infrastructure program get passed, with their potential to lift investment. Overall, the year 2018 is likely to show some construction project types register gains while other project types settle back, with the end result being a 3% increase for total construction starts. By major sector, gains are predicted for residential building, up 4%; and nonresidential building, up 2%; while nonbuilding construction stabilizes after two years of decline.”

Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) has posted a radio link on its CONEXPO-CON/AGG New update. To hear it you can do so at:


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ARTBA Reports Modest Growth for 2018 Transportation Construction Market