Transportation Construction Forecast

The U.S. transportation infrastructure market is expected to grow 4.2 percent in 2019, according to the annual economic forecast released Dec. 5, 2018, by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

Increased transportation investment by federal, state and local governments will help drive the growth across all modes, ARTBA Chief Economist Dr. Alison Premo Black said.

Total domestic transportation construction and related-market activity is projected to reach $278.1 billion, up from 2018’s $266.9 billion, after adjusting for project costs and inflation.

The transportation construction market also grew by 4.2 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, driven largely by gains in airport terminal and runway construction, which increased by $5.8 billion, or 33 percent. Spending on public highway and street construction rose by $2.7 billion in 2018.

Black shared the findings in her multimodal forecast during a webinar for analysts, investors, transportation construction market executives and public officials.

One wild card in the forecast, Black said, is the outlook for the scheduled 2020 reauthorization of the FAST Act surface transportation law and the ability of Congress to find additional revenues to support the Highway Trust Fund. “If states start delaying transportation improvement projects in response to uncertainty over the future of the federal program, it will temper 2019 market growth,” Black said.

Although the overall U.S. transportation infrastructure market will see growth next year, the situation will likely vary significantly by state and region, according to Black.

Highway construction market activity is expected to increase in about half of the states and Washington, D.C. California, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia have shown significant increases in contract awards over the last year, a leading indicator of highway construction activity in those states. The market should be steady in another five states, with activity expected to slow down in about 20 states.

Some additional factors could impact the highway market in 2018 and beyond, such as developments in Federal Highway Investment. Congress is currently working on the passage of a FY 2019 appropriations bill that could provide an additional $3 billion to $4 billion in federal-aid highway program investment.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is expected to begin making awards from the $1.5 billion Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) program that was approved in the 2018 appropriations bill. This is the discretionary program formerly known as the TIGER grants.

The potential passage of a federal infrastructure bill or the inclusion of a permanent fix for the Highway Trust Fund remains a wild card in the highway market forecast. Any increase in direct federal spending through the federal-aid highway program, which by law must be spent largely on capital outlays, would support additional construction activity across the country.

Other factors include project costs and material prices; steel tariffs; and market capacity, according to Black.

Among other findings in Black’s forecast:

Public & Private Highway, Street & Related Construction

  • The real value of public highway, street and related work by state DOTs and local governments – the largest market sector – is expected to increase by 5 percent to $66.5 billion after growing 4.5 percent in 2018.
  • Work on private highways, bridges, parking lots and driveways will increase from $65.9 billion in 2018 to $69.1 billion in 2019 and will continue to grow over the next five years as market activity increases in those sectors.

Bridges & Tunnels

  • The pace of bridge and tunnel work slowed in 2018, but is expected to grow 1.5 percent next year to $31.7 billion, with the pace increasing to over 2 percent annually in 2020 and beyond.

Light Rail, Subways, & Railroads

  • Public transit and rail construction is expected to increase from $19 billion in 2018 to $20 billion in 2019, a 5.7 percent increase.
  • Subway and light rail investment is expected to reach a new record level, increasing from $7.7 billion in 2018 to $8.2 billion in 2019.

Airport Runways & Terminals

  • After growing 38 percent in 2018, airport terminal and related work, including structures like parking garages, hangars, air freight terminals and traffic towers, is expected to increase from $18.4 billion in 2018 to $19.2 billion, an increase of 4.5 percent.
  • Runway work, which was up 18 percent in 2018, is forecasted to increase from $4.9 billion in 2018 to $5.1 billion in 2019.

Ports & Waterways

  • The value of port and waterway investment is expected to grow 3 percent to $2.6 billion in 2019. Construction activity in 2018 was $2.5 billion, up from $2.2 billion in 2017.

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