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Road Builders see minor 2018 transportation construction rebound

Sources: American Road & Transportation Builders Association, Washington, D.C.; CP staff

After a 2.8 percent year-over-year decline in 2017, total domestic transportation construction and related-market outlays are projected to reach $255 billion next year, according to the ARTBA Transportation Construction Market Forecast.

"The fundamentals are positive," says ARTBA Chief Economist Dr. Alison Premo Black. "A lot of things could help support growth in the coming years, including the local and federal investment part of it. It really depends on where you are working. We are seeing much more variation in the regional, state and even local or urban level. There are states and areas that are showing very strong, significant growth and potential for growth over the next few years."

Transportation construction activity for 2018 is expected to increase in at least 20 states and Washington, D.C., with work in another seven remaining steady, and declining in the remaining 23 states. The highest market growth is anticipated in California, Florida, Hawaii, New York, Virginia and Washington, while a slowdown in transportation funding and investment appears likely for Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada and Oklahoma. Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas markets are anticipated to hold steady. Federal highway funding of state department of transportation programs provided by the 2015 FAST Act will continue to show inflationary growth in 2018, providing a degree of market stability in every state.

Although there have been significant increases in state and local revenues for transportation purposes in a number of states over the past several years, ARTBA finds, some of those dollars have been dedicated to debt reduction or otherwise delay from reaching road, bridge and other infrastructure programs. Combined with receding state markets due to completion of bond programs or declining or inflation-eroded state revenues, those factors continue to cause a drag on the overall U.S. transportation infrastructure market. The 2017 market drop was largely driven by the coast-to-coast decline in state and local highway & bridge spending, which were down 6.4 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively, from prior year levels.

Transportation construction market bright spots remain airport terminals, public transit, Class 1 railroads and private driveway, street and parking lot construction associated with residential and commercial developments. These markets saw real market growth in 2017, and are forecast to continue growing in 2018. Public highway & bridge construction and related services by state DOTs and local governments, port and waterway construction, plus airport runway work is expected to grow modestly in 2018, partially offsetting market declines from the previous year. With major projects in some states reaching conclusion, the pace of bridge work has slowed. The public bridge and tunnel construction market is expected to increase slightly in 2018, to $31.3 billion. Work in 2017 is expected to be $30.5 billion, down from $33.1 billion the prior year.