Construction Issues in Limbo as Nation Awaits Election Results

As votes continued to be counted around the country, the outcome of the race for the White House and several tight Senate contests were all unsettled as of midnight Nov. 3. President Trump was doing somewhat better than polls had predicted in some states, most notably Florida, though a winner in those races hadn’t yet been called. The outcomes of the presidential contest in the key swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania remained too close to call. Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies senior vice president for advocacy, notes that whoever takes the White House will have to deal with important infrastructure legislation in 2021. “The vast majority of everything is getting pushed over to next year, so really, regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, that’s going to be a big priority,” Hall says. “The challenge with a second Trump administration is what’s the relationship going to be like with a more Democratic Congress and how that’s going to affect that [infrastructure] agenda.” If Biden wins, another infrastructure package is likely. Jimmy Christianson, Associated General Contractors of America vice president for government relations, said in an interview that a Biden measure would be similar to the Moving America Forward Act, which the House passed in July. That bill has $1.5 trillion in infrastructure funding, including $494 billion for highways, transit and rail programs. A more immediate issue facing Congress is finishing appropriations for the rest of fiscal year 2021. A stopgap measure passed in September only extends through Dec. 11. Another near-term matter is the fate of a further coronavirus relief and economic stimulus bill. In recent weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been exchanging proposals aimed at a compromise package but didn’t reach a deal before Election Day. Whether those talks will resume—and result in an agreement— in an expected lame duck session also would likely be affected by the outcome of the presidential contest. Michele Stanley, National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association vice president for government and regulatory affairs, said via email that both candidates “are supportive of infrastructure spending and we are hopeful that a recovery/stimulus package in 2021, no matter which administration is in place, will focus on infrastructure investment as a way for economic recovery for America.” Perhaps the biggest difference between the presidential candidates is in labor issues, contractor groups say. AGC and Associated Builders and Contractors are worried about the Protecting the Right to Organize, or PRO, bill, which the House passed in February. The measure has strong union support. Christianson says it is part of Biden’s agenda and would “dramatically shift labor law” for the first time in 50 years. Kristen Swearingen, ABC vice president for legislative and political affairs, said in an interview, “That would be a huge, huge detriment to ABC member companies.” She adds that for ABC, “One of the main motivators of this election is making sure that that bill does not get across the finish line.” For example, it would end the prohibition on secondary boycotts, and allow rapid unionization elections, Christianson says.  Trump’s White House has issued a statement recommending a veto of the legislation, should it reach his desk. There has been no action on the bill in the Senate. Ballot Measures Some results were clear late Nov. 3 on construction related ballot initiatives throughout the country. The Village of Key Biscayne, Fla., approved a $100-million bond measure to help fund a variety of resilience projects to safeguard the low-lying barrier island near Miami from the effects of sea level rise. Projects include roadway elevations, construction of an offshore breakwater, shoreline and seagrass mitigation and hardening of utility infrastructure. With an average elevation of 3.4 ft above sea level, Key Biscayne is projected to become increasingly vulnerable to tidal flooding over the next 25 years, according to a 2017 vulnerability assessment. In Travis County, Texas, which includes the state capital of Austin, a funding measure for the $7.1-billion Project Connect mass transit plan appeared on track to pass by a wide margin. The largest such project in the city’s history, the program is to include construction of two light rail lines and a downtown transit tunnel. The county’s voters also approved a separate $460-million bond-funded measure that includes improvements to streets, drainage infrastructure, sidewalks and urban trails. Arkansas voters amended the state constitution to make permanent a .5% statewide transportation sales tax first enacted in 2012. More than two-thirds of the nearly $294 million in annual tax revenue goes to highway projects, with the remainder split between city and county transportation programs. In Seattle, a sales tax to fund transit-related projects was renewed for six years. Voters in Bend, Ore., overwhelmingly approved a $190-million transportation bond measure that had been temporarily pulled from the ballot during the summer amid concerns that its chances for success would be compromised by coronavirus-related economic concerns. Amended to delay implementing a property tax increase until 2022, the measure funds upgrades to the city’s main east-west connector routes and neighborhood safety improvements. The night’s major defeat in the transportation sector was the apparent failure of a controversial plan in metropolitan Portland, Ore., to help fund a $7-billion transportation program via a new .75% payroll tax on private employers with 25 or more workers. The funding mechanism drew strong opposition from the region’s business community, while polls suggested that economic uncertainties dimmed public support for the program’s $3-billion light rail extension and multiple highway safety improvement projects. Numerous measures to fund improvements to K-12 educational facilities generally appeared to enjoy strong support. Topping the list was Texas’s largest-ever municipal bond issue—a $3.27-billion measure to renovate 14 aging schools in the Dallas area. Other apparent successes include a San Antonio property tax increase that will fund up to up to $1.21 billion in bonds for new construction and renovations at 36 campuses, and a $300-million public school construction bond for Guilford County, N.C., which includes the city of Greensboro. New Mexico voters strongly endorsed a $156.3-million bond measure devoted to improving multiple higher education facilities, special schools and tribal schools. Early vote tallies favored several other construction-related ballot measures. Among them was a proposal in Seattle and surrounding King County to allocate $1.74 billion of property tax revenue for bonds to expand city-owned Harborview Hospital, and a $250-million bond issue in Detroit to demolish approximately 8,000 blighted and abandoned properties and secure 6,000 others for potential renovation. Multnomah County, Ore., voters said yes to a $387-million plan to renovate several library branches and provide for a new 95,000-square-foot flagship facility. Construction Candidates Results were still coming in for the races of a handful of construction sector engineers, all running as first-time Republican candidates for House of Representatives seats. in New Jersey, David Richter, a civil engineer, attorney and former CEO of project management and claims consultant Hill International, has lost to Democratic incumbent Andy Kim, according to AP and other media sources.  In Maryland, there was no indication as of 11 p.m. eastern whether Neil C. Parrott, a transportation engineer and CEO-founder of consultant Traffic Solutions Inc. in Hagerstown, Md., will be able to unseat Democrat David Trone in western Maryland’s eighth district. Parrott is a former state highway administration manager and former deputy public works director in Frederick, Md. Also not clear was the vote count for Alexis Johnson, an environmental engineer who seeks to represent a northern New Mexico congressional district. She is retired from a family business that manages projects for oil and gas producers. 

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