Transportation economist: 2020 outlays outpace inflation

The U.S. transportation infrastructure market is expected to grow at least 5 percent this year, fueled by increased federal, state and local government investment, according to American Road & Transportation Builders Association Chief Economist Dr. Alison Premo Black. Total construction and related-market activity in 2020 should reach $300.4 billion, up from $286.5 billion in 2019 after adjusting for project costs and inflation.

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ARTBA projections are based on a series of proprietary econometric models for each mode and analysis of federal, state and local data and market intelligence. The full forecast can be purchased at www.artbastore.org.

The transportation construction market grew by 8 percent last year compared to 2018, driven largely by gains in highway, street and pavement work, which grew by $9.6 billion to $73.1 billion. Airport construction work on runways and terminals increased by less than 1 percent in 2019 but was still at record investment levels. Strong growth in the subway, light rail and mass transit sector, as well as private railroad investment helped support a strong year for ARTBA members.

One variable, Dr. Black notes, is the outlook for the reauthorization of the FAST Act transportation law, due in 2020, and the ability of Congress to find additional revenues to support the Highway Trust Fund: Any project delays rooted in state agency concerns over whether the next federal surface transportation bill is completed in a timely matter could temper market growth. Overall, transportation construction market activity is expected to increase or be steady in about half of the states, the ARTBA analysis shows. Some of the largest markets expected to remain stable or grow include Texas, California, Illinois, New York, Florida, North Carolina, Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, Arizona and Wisconsin. Among the other key findings:

Public, Private Highway, Street and Related Construction. The real value of public highway, street and related construction investment by state transportation departments and local governments—the largest market sector—is expected to increase by 6 percent to $77.5 billion after growing 15 percent in 2019. Construction work on private highways, bridges, parking lots and driveways will increase from $69.1 billion in 2019 to $71.8 billion this year, and continue to grow over the next five years as market activity increases in those sectors.

Bridges and Tunnels. The pace of work stayed flat in 2019 and is forecast to grow by $800 million, or 3 percent, in 2020. Bridge and tunnel market activity fell slightly from $28.8 billion in 2018 to $28.6 billion in 2019, after adjusting for project costs and inflation.

Light Rail, Subways, Railroads. Public transit and rail construction are expected to grow from $23 billion in 2019 to $24.2 billion in 2020, a 5 percent increase. Subway and light rail investment are expected to reach a new record level, increasing from $10.3 billion last year to $11 billion in 2020.

Airport Runways, Terminals. After growing 34 percent in 2018, airport terminal and related construction work, including structures like parking garages, hangars, air freight terminals and traffic towers, is projected to increase from $18.5 billion in 2019 to $19.6 billion this year. Runway work is on track to increase from $4.7 billion last year to $4.9 billion in 2020.

Ports, Waterways. The value of port and waterway investment should grow to $3.4 billion in 2020. Construction activity in 2019 was $3.3 billion, up from $2.5 billion in 2018.

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