Construction News Tracker is a presentation of Caterpillar and produced by ForConstructionPros.com.
An after action assessment update of the devastation left behind by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in recent weeks indicates the areas affected will be dealing with the fallout for months. In Harris County, Texas — home to Houston — 136,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed outright brought about by massive flooding. Many other Texas and Louisiana communities were also affected.
Case Construction Equipment, which has been supporting veteran-led disaster response organization Team Rubicon, sent equipment and on-site support personnel into Rockport and Port Aransas, Texas, to assist in debris removal and home demolition. Sonsray Machinery of California donated compact track loaders while Michelin Tires sent their Tweel airless radial tires for skid steers working in demolition while Nueces Power Equipment of Corpus Christi provided on-site equipment support.
The storms have impacted the labor market as well with a pronounced shortage of workers in the Houston area from well before Hurricane Harvey affected the region as AGC’s Ken Simonson reports that 4,500 workers were lost in Houston between August 2016 and August of this year — 2% of its total workforce — hampering rebuilding. The Greater Houston Builders Association estimates that over 30,000 homes have been destroyed.
At the height of Irma, Florida DOT Secretary Mike Drew reached out to counterparts to see what assistance he could count on. Sixteen state DOTs, coordinated by AASHTO, expressed willingness to send crews, and three were accepted. Maryland, Missouri and Delaware sent 89 workers to help inspect bridges, cut away downed trees blocking roads and remove debris bringing with them backhoes, chainsaws and front end loaders. Doosan Bobcat alone sent $325,000 worth of equipment ranging from skid steers to attachments to impacted communities in Florida.
Meanwhile, Florida has eased some of its stringent contractor licensing laws letting them perform roofing repairs and installation rather than requiring work be subcontracted to a licensed roofer, and the state is waiving fees for businesses that have to move or reopen due to the storm. All work, however, must be permitted and inspected to code.
Now to the costs. As of late September, wind related damage in Florida alone was tagged at $19.4 billion. The heaviest in Lee and Collier Counties, and only $6.3 billion is covered by insurance policies. This does not cover any flood losses. Through September 24, 562,000 property insurance claims had been filed in Florida amounting to $3.6 billion dollars.
The impact to the U.S. Territories from Maria has yet to be calculated. The port of San Juan has been re-opened with a dozen ships. A significant problem lies in not having truck drivers available to distribute the goods unable to contact them due to downed cell towers and power lines. The U.S. Military Southern Command has deployed 2,000 personnel to assist FEMA and has moved its command structure from San Juan to the Territorites to heighten its reach.
Builders claim they will have to re-spec projects as lumber steel and concrete costs are escalating. Harvey began the negative run as retail prices dropped two-tenths of a percent in August — the biggest drop in six months. It's likely to impact the third quarter growth and possibly the fourth quarter as well.
Despite pressure by the White House and Congress to cut funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation's TIGER Grant program, the agency is allocating another $500 million. Applications are due October 16th for funding available through September 2020 for grants ranging in size from $5 million to $25 million. The future of TIGER grants rests in the fate of the federal budget up for approval later this fall.
The Federal Highway Administration's annual summer redistributon of unused highway funding finds $3.1 billion in bonus money to be shared with the states. Texas will receive the greatest allotment of $280 million followed by California at $274.5 million, Florida at $158.6 million, Pennsylvania at $154 million and New York at $145.3 million. All 50 states will receive an allotment, and requests far exceeded the outflow at $5.4 million. States moved quickly to utilize the money as all had to be assigned by the end of September, the end of the federal budget fiscal year.
Regarding the Federal Highway Administration, it has a new leader. Paul Trombino, former head of the Iowa DOT, was selected by President Trump to head up the agency. Trombino is also a former Wisconsin DOT administrator.
Yet another construction industry sign of progress, the Federal Aviation Administration has awarded $381 million in airport infrastructure grants to 78 facilities nationwide. The funds come from the FAA Improvement Program to help airports ease congestion. Dallas Fort Worth airport will receive the single largest share of the funds at $52.2 million to repair its main runway and upgrade lighting of aircraft apron parking locations.
Finally in closing, attitudes are much more important than aptitudes.
This is Construction News Tracker looking over the industry that makes the world a better place, presented by Caterpillar and produced by ForConstructionPros.com.