Launch Slideshow

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A slow climb from rock bottom

A slow climb from rock bottom

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    For which of the following is your department responsible? Check all that apply.

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    This year, only 93 of our 600 survey respondents plan to award projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Of those, 58 are road improvements or repairs, 42 are related to stormwater, and 39 concern wastewater. (Respondents were allowed to select more than one type of project.)

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    How many years have you postponed maintenance activities to meet budgetary goals?

By Victoria K. Sicaras

As 2011 wound to a close, reports of a slowly growing GDP and signs of life in the housing sector pointed toward a strengthening economy.

But don't break out your champagne bottles yet, as “strength” is a relative term. We're talking about an economic climate in which nearly all of our nation's financial muscle had been stripped away. It will take many years to build it back up to prerecession size.

Additionally, continued recovery is still very much dependent upon real estate and construction activity, cautions Anirban Basu, chief economist for the national organization Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. What little growth we've experienced in recent years is due to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. As stimulus-funded projects decline, growth in nonresidential construction will increasingly depend on private investment.

But with office vacancy rates still high, job creation slow, and lending disciplined, that's not likely to increase much in 2012, warns Basu. As a result, public construction spending continues to decline in many communities across the United States.