Builders of Roads Expect Dim '10

A difficult year is expected to be followed by a worse one next year for the companies that build roads and bridges in Ohio.

An overwhelming majority of Ohio and national firms say they're likely to lay off workers and put off any major equipment purchases in 2010, according to a survey by the Transportation Construction Coalition, a Washington-based trade group.

"It is impossible to overstate just how difficult current conditions are or how dire the outlook for next year is," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for Associated General Contractors, in a statement. Simonson helped analyze the results for the coalition.

"One-time investments in transportation infrastructure (that came from federal stimulus money) ... help, but they're simply no substitute for having a long-term investment strategy in our roads, bridges and transit systems."

Simonson's organization added that "the requirement that stimulus-funded projects be 'shovel ready' discouraged larger-scale and longer-duration projects that sustain long-term personnel and equipment needs from getting funding."

The October survey showed that while this year's infusion of stimulus money probably helped save some jobs, it wasn't enough to prevent widespread layoffs.

Responses from Ohio companies largely tracked the response nationwide.

Sixty-one percent of Ohio companies said they have laid off nonseasonal workers this year because of the economy; the national figure was 64 percent.

Roughly 90 percent in Ohio and nationwide say they don't have enough of a backlog of projects to avoid layoffs in 2010.

At least 75 percent said they expect a slight to severe decline in the construction market next year. More than 80 percent of all respondents said they will not buy new heavy construction equipment or trucks next year based on these projections.

The coalition is urging Congress to pass the federal Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009, a new six-year bill that would provide more money for transportation-construction projects. The coalition plans to come out with ads next week to encourage action on the bill.