Launch Slideshow

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Holdin' the Line in '09

Holdin' the Line in '09

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    This map shows the most common response to our outlook survey by EPA region.

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    This table shows the most common response to our outlook survey by department budget.

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    We asked readers how operations (O&M) and capital improvement (CIP) budgets this year compare to 2008 levels.

Respondents' budgets range from less than $1 million to $50 million or more, and they serve communities with less than 10,000 to more than a million residents (see charts on next page). We analyzed data by EPA region (see map below) to provide a general overview of budget expectations in 10 areas of the country and Canada.

DOWN BUT FAR FROM OUT

Although national and global financial markets were in chaos when our survey was deployed, respondents blamed cutbacks in planned new construction or capital improvements on material costs more than tight credit. Readers working in the water and wastewater sectors — or any enterprise operation — reported more funding increases than those whose departments rely primarily on general revenues for funding.

“I'm forecasting a flat sales year, but not a significant reduction reduction in work because most of our infrastructure projects are regulatory-driven,” says William Spearman III, a vice president at engineering firm Woolpert Inc. “Bonding concerns are affecting large projects. Projects that have been designed aren't proceeding to construction. There's a reluctance to return to the marketplace with interest rates still above-average.”

By themselves, though, numbers don't reveal much about the average reader's psyche.

Our request to suggest a slogan for the year provides valuable insight into how managers choose to interpret their situation. For every respondent who's looking forward to a challenging year, another is determined to capitalize on the precedent set by a national leader who's repeatedly indicated his commitment to infrastructure.

So for every suggestion along the lines of Depression Lite and No fine wine in '09 unless we walk the thin line, we received something like Move forward and things should be fine; be optimistic for 2009.

The concept of “eco-infrastructure” popped up as well, reflecting readers' increased exploration of “green” alternatives: wetlands instead of treatment plants, full or partial reclamation instead of new pavement, compost instead of gravel on roadsides. Although the debate over the ultimate cost-effectiveness of green buildings continues, infrastructure managers clearly see a public relations opportunity as well, as indicated by slogans like Green today for growth tomorrow and Live green, stay green.

USE IT OR LOSE IT

In addition to electing an infrastructure-hip president in November, voters also approved almost $40 billion in new borrowing for infrastructure.

American Public Works Association members have 3,600 road-widening, paving, traffic-light-and-signal repair, highway intersection improvement, storm drain pipe realignment, pumping station improvement, sewer line replacement, treatment plant upgrade, water valve replacement, pedestrian underpass safety improvement, and sidewalk repair projects ready to go within 90 days once $15 billion in funding is made available.

As of mid-December, 641 cities had identified 15,221 projects in 10 sectors — including street/metro roads, transit, water and wastewater infrastructure, and airport technology — worth $97 billion. The U.S. Conference of Mayors is lobbying Congress and President Barack Obama hard for a corresponding MainStreet Recovery plan that w would create 1.2 million jobs over the next two years, almost half the president's goal. Whether their r their recommendations become part of a second economic-stimulus legislative package in the $700 billion billion range remains to be seen.