Hope and action

As President-elect Barack Obama continues to hammer out the details of his economic stimulus plan, his December 5th radio and YouTube broadcast certainly brought hope to the highway and bridge construction market, and more importantly America's unemployed.

Without a substantial infrastructure stimulus plan, "the U.S. highway and bridge construction market is expected to flatten in 2009, as recent increases in federal highway investment will likely be offset by weakened state and local highway budgets," according to a forecast issued by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association's top economist Dr. William Buechner.

Buechner projects the value of construction work put in place on highways and bridges will be $80.2 billion in 2009, a 1.5-percent increase over 2008. Federal funding enacted by Congress ($41.2 billion for FY 2008 and another $41.2 billion for FY 2009) should help maintain market stability, but state and local governments may not be able to meet their highway funding needs as a result of their economic woes. According to Buechner, "the recent turmoil in financial markets may also affect the ability of some state and local governments to use bond-financing for transportation projects." Some states have already announced cutbacks in highway and bridge projects in response to budget shortfalls.

When Obama met with the nation's governors in early December, he was told that $136 billion worth of road, bridge and other projects were ready to go as soon as funding becomes available.

In his December 5th broadcast, Obama committed to the largest public works construction program since the creation of the Interstate Highway System. He wants to enact this new economic stimulus spending program, estimated at $400 to $700 billion or higher, soon after he's inaugurated. Along with highway and bridge funding, Obama's proposed infrastructure program would include work on schools, sewer systems, mass transit, electric grids, dams and other public utilities.

While a large portion of the program will focus on energy conservation and developing new "green" energy resources, a substantial amount will be earmarked for highway, bridge and other surface infrastructure improvements.

The proposed plan would create approximately 2 million new jobs over the next two years.

The U.S. highway and bridge construction industry is hopeful of Obama's infrastructure commitment and the jobs that it will generate. Congressional action supporting the program will not only create jobs immediately, but will also improve an infrastructure that is critical to this country's future economic growth.