Although all levels of government face deficits — close to $155 billion in 2012, according to one economist — they're still investing in critical enhancements.
The top five types of projects for which they hire expertise remains the same as last year: road/bridge construction, wastewater/stormwater treatment, surveying/mapping/GIS, pipeline construction/rehabilitation, and landscape architecture/park design.
Someone's got to do it
A jump in the use of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms indicates layoffs and hiring freezes are forcing more departments to rely more heavily on outside help. Nearly 70% of respondents expect to work with consultants as much as or more over the coming year. Only 20% predict a decrease. Source: PUBLIC WORKSSURVEY RESPONDENT COMMENTS
Thanks to a hiring freeze, we're relying on AEC firms to do the jobs — inspecting all types of construction, mowing, snow and ice removal, food services, property buying and management under supervision, and more — formerly held by employees.
We're using an engineering consultant in a public relations capacity to do things like update improvement-project Web sites and respond to phone and e-mail requests for information or service.
We're using AEC firms more than in the past for legal, food, inspection, engineering, and project management services.
Survey responses also indicate a surge in water-related work. Wastewater and stormwater treatment moved from third to second place on the list, with pipeline construction and rehabilitation, watersheds/water resources, and water treatment also in the top 10. Of the survey respondents who are using AEC firms more for particular projects, more than half (56%) are doing so for water-related projects.
Some of this work is driven by EPA consent decrees to eliminate combined sewer overflows, an extensive and expensive undertaking that limits the resources available for unrelated projects. “The active enforcement of compliance dates limits discretionary funding of these agencies,” says Matichich. “They have to be very creative in managing their budgets because they are bound by these big-dollar projects.”
A California reader confirmed this by reporting that new permit regulations require the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District to spend $2 billion over the coming decade.Still stimulated
As shown in the chart on the next page, more than a third of our survey respondents plan to use outside expertise for stimulus-backed projects over the next year — an unexpected bump from the past two years. Most are under way or almost completed, indicating the bump is due to funds allocated — or projects launched — during 2010.
Although the order's shifted slightly, the type of work involving AEC firms remains the same for the second year in a row. Demand for landscape architecture/park design has declined, but these services still edge out water treatment and watersheds/water resources, which also held top spots over the past five years. Source: PUBLIC WORKS
Consistent with reports that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been slower than other federal agencies to allocate funds, several involve enhancements designed to lower electricity consumption by public buildings and water and wastewater treatment plants. According to a report on www.energy.gov, the agency was still awarding money last summer for things like a liquid waste tank in Aiken, S.C. (June 2010), and hydroelectric facility modernization in Duluth, Minn. (August 2010).
Even though the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 enabled some departments to jump-start much-needed work, as with any federal program there wasn't enough money to go around.
“Our water and wastewater treatment facilities are five years older than their expected service life,” wrote Westfield, N.Y., Mayor David Carr in response to our survey. “Our problem is that we're considered too wealthy for some of the grants we have applied for. But because these systems are the most important part of our village, repairs must be done.”
At press time, the federal government had paid out 75% of $275 billion in stimulus contracts, grants, and loans. Let's hope you see the rest soon.
Editor's note: Agencies serving communities with at least 100,000 residents are more likely than those in smaller communities (42% vs. 31%) to still be working on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 projects. Source: PUBLIC WORKS
Click on to view a list of the Top AEC Firms and look below to check out some of this year's feature articles:
Top AEC Firms
- A new landmark in town
Composite water tower stabilizes rates and pressure for 36-square-mile township.
- Bypass surgery
State DOT combines precast concrete arches with a lightweight cellular overfill for a world's-first bridge design.
- Burrowing beyond a consent decree
Project shows tunneling can be as cost-effective for smaller communities as large cities.
- Working around the railroads
It took eight years and a 1,100-foot bridge, but engineers managed to eliminate two crossings for frustrated motorists.