[NEWS TRACKER] House Passes Continuing Resolution to Fund FAST Act through 2021

Reauthorization plan would commit to FAST Act adding $13.6 billion to the Highway Trust Fund from general funding; plus more construction industry news on the October 1, 2020, edition of Construction News Tracker.

Construction News Tracker is presented by Caterpillar and produced by Forconstructionpros.com.

FAST Act funding extended into 2021

The House has voted to keep government agencies funded for a year under a continuing resolution plan staving off a government shutdown just days before the September 30 deadline. The plan would commit to a reauthorization of the FAST Act adding $13.6 billion to the Highway Trust Fund from general funding. The continuing resolution would permit the spending plan to continue until at least December 11 fully funding the agencies involved.

Construction starts show positive signs

Total construction starts rose 19% in August, according to the latest Dodge Data and Analytics coming in at a seasonally adjusted rate of $793 billion. All three sectors in the building component factors showed an increase:

  • nonresidential by 16%
  • residential by 12% 
  • nonbuilding by a staggering 40% for the month

However, year to date through the first eight months of 2020 building starts were 14% lower than registered in 2019. The August Dodge Index rose 19% to 148 from its 141 reading in June. Dodge Chief Economist Richard Branch says construction starts continue to make up ground from its low in April but continues to face challenges as we head into fall.

The construction starts enhanced picture is being bolstered by the latest from the Association of Builders and Contractors (ABC) that the Backlog Indicator is also improving. Rebounding to eight months in August, that is just of 2/10ths of a percent from July, according to the latest ABC member survey. The Construction Confidence Index readings improved in August for sales, profit margins and staffing levels as each one showed expansion is on the horizon for contractors. ABC Chief Economist Anirban Basu said the August report was a surprise because of the upside from previous months.

The presidential order directing federal agencies to waive environmental regulations and streamline infrastructure projects has been released. It shows that some 60 projects nationwide are likely to evade the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act and others to hasten the recovery from the virus pandemic. The order eliminates the responsibility for federal agencies to abide by environmetnal regulations in order to speed up public works project to create jobs. Virtually every state is affected.

A surprising report by the Commerce Department regarding the nation's homebuilding industry. After three months of gains, even during the pandemic, housing construction fell 5.1% in August. New homes were started at a seasonlly adjusted pace of 1.42 million after a 17.9% surge in July. Despite the drop, home construction remains 51.6% above its April low.

Fires and hurricanes wreak havoc

Disastrous wildfires in the nation's west and striking hurricanes in the south has left in their wake plenty of damage to contend with for months to come. California, Oregon and Washington are the most affected when it comes to highway clearance issues. Thousands of trees are said to be sprawled across roadways needing clearance, and workers are spread thin as they work in very hazardous smoky conditions. Then, of course, is the COVID-19 requirements for all workers. Work continues as fire conditions allow.

In the south, Hurricane Laura created sustained power and water outages and caused the Louisiana ship channel at the Port of Cameron to close because of damage. Commercial ship channels are being dredged to ensure safe depth for ships. The situation affects energy supplies and is likely to cause gas prices to rise.

Read next: Is Your Business Prepared for a Hurricane?

Meanwhile, at the Alabama Florida border Hurricane Sally caused substantial damage to communities along the coastline. The Pensacola Bay Bridge lost 30 concrete sections after 22 construction barges broke loose from their moorings in the hurricane striking the spans, plus pier damage as well. Skanska started construction of the nearly 3-mile-long bridge in 2017.

Another construction crane accident

An accident involving two cranes in Austin, Texas, recently has generated calls for contractors to develop site plans when multiple devices are on site. The incident injured 22 people, sending 16 for hospital treatment. It happened at the Mueller redevelopment project. Austin officials and OSHA are looking into the situation and have said no site plans concerning cranes had been filed by contractors for the project.

Read next: Crane Collapse Fatalities are Preventable

Tunnel project gets green light

The massive Hampton Roads Bridge tunnel project off the east coast of Virginia has receive its final stamp of approval. The Virginia Department of Transportation has given its go ahead to the joint venture team of Dragadoes, Vinci Construction, Flatiron Construction, HDR and Mott Mcdonald to begin interstate and tunnel work on the 9.9 mile corridor. The massive 3.8 billion dollar project will include two new tunnels to the present system and add traffic lanes to the interstate highway.

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.

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