DALLAS – A national contractors association has called for a renewed emphasis on infrastructure by President Trump and Congress after the latest Census Bureau report found a 5.4% drop in public construction spending in June from May, and 9.5% decline from June 2016.
The biggest public construction segment – highway and street construction – slumped 8.1% from a year earlier, according to the bureau’s Aug. 1 report, said Stephen E. Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America.
The significant declines in public sector construction spending come at a time when much of the nation’s public infrastructure is deteriorating due to age or overuse, he said.
Sandherr urged Congress and the Trump administration to work together to enact new measures to fund and finance needed upgrades to the nation’s aging infrastructure. These investments are necessary to protect against further deterioration of the nation’s public works, he said, noting that the new investments would offset slackening demand for construction.
“Washington officials need to act quickly to rebuild our public works before bad roads, unclean water, and unreliable power systems begin to serve as a drag on broader economic growth,” Sandherr said.
Ken Simonson, the association's chief economist, said the spending rate in June was the lowest seasonally adjusted rate since February 2014.
The bad news is not limited to roads, highways, and bridges, Simonson said. Spending on transportation facilities such as transit and airport construction fell by 3.9% since June 2016, with public spending on educational structures down by 7.3%, along with a 16.1% drop in sewage and waste disposal and a 17.7% decline in spending on drinking water supply, he said.
“Construction spending is still increasing overall but growth has become much more uneven across categories in recent months,” Simonson said.
“There has been a steep decline in public investment in nearly all types of construction over the past year,” he said. “Private, non-residential construction is still rising overall but generally at slower rates than was occurring a few months ago.”
The Trump administration said in March that its $1 trillion, 10-year infrastructure proposal would include $200 billion of new federal infrastructure funding.
President Trump said last week that the infrastructure plan is under development and should be unveiled in September as promised by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
"I want a very big infrastructure bill,” Trump told reporters during an Aug. 10 press briefing at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club. “We're working on that very hard already. And we can do that.”
Trump said he remains optimistic that Democrats will support his infrastructure proposal.
“I think the infrastructure bill will be bipartisan and quite frankly, I might have more support from the Democrats,” he said. “I want a very strong infrastructure bill. I’m not sure that we will bring them [Democrats] in. Maybe we’ll bring them in, maybe not.”
The Wyoming Department of Transportation is conducting a new study to see whether it would be feasible to put tolls on portions of Interstate 80 if the Trump plan removes the current federal ban on tolling existing interstate lanes.
Wyoming DOT Director Bill Panos said he wants to be prepared “if and when the administration and Congress are ready to go with large-scale funding.”
“We may also be pressed by the folks in [Washington,] D.C. to have the study done as soon as possible, especially if there is money for infrastructure,” he said.
The recent 10th anniversary of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis that killed 13 people and injured 145 is a reminder that millions of Americans cross one of the nation’s 55,000 structurally deficient bridges every day, said Kerry O’Hare, vice president and director of policy at the infrastructure advocacy group Building America’s Future.
Efforts by the Trump administration to reduce time-consuming regulations and provide incentives to attract private investments in public infrastructure are part of the solution, she said.
“But a bold, long-term infrastructure plan must also include robust and reliable federal funding,” O’Hare said.