Underground Construction’s 13th Annual Municipal Infrastructure Survey: Signs Of Life in Sewer/Water Economy

Stimulus Offers Small Aid; Slow Turnaround As Year Progresses
By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2010 Vol. 65 No. 2

Trepidation: [n.] a feeling of alarm or dread.
As we approached 2009 with an economy in free fall and zero confidence in any kind of positive funding trend, public works officials approached the coming year with extreme trepidation.

A year later, after a sobering 12 months of bad news and worse news regarding the economy and construction industry, several obvious questions emerge for 2010. Have we truly turned the economic corner? Just how much money will be available for underground infrastructure spending? Will the almost mythical stimulus funds finally have a substantial impact? What is the mind set of public works officials regarding their budgets for 2010? In short, are sewer and water public works officials budgeting with trepidation? Or are they somewhat more confident with their 2010 outlook?

Based upon the results of the 13th Annual Underground Construction Sewer & Water Municipal Infrastructure Survey, the answers present a mixed bag, most likely making 2010 a year of transition. But through all the answers, concerns and speculations presented in the survey results, a thread of hope and higher expectations emerged.

Overall spending, for the most part, has increased for 2010 according to the survey results. However, those figures include many caveats and a lot of “definite maybes.” Municipal personnel are very tentative about their spending plans. The strategy for most cities seems to be:
$ First six months of 2010:

  • For those fortunate few who have received stimulus monies, that will carry spending plans early in the year; and
  • For the rest of the cities, just treading water, delaying much of the budgeted spending.

$ Last half of 2010:

  • If the economy has indeed stabilized and funding reflects more certainty, adjust budgets and release work in the back-end of 2010;
  • If the economy is still shaky, continue treading water.

For new construction, 51.4 percent of respondents anticipate spending more money in 2010 compared to 49.6 percent expecting to spend less. Rehabilitation spending demonstrates much more optimism among survey respondents with 59 percent planning to increase 2010 spending.

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Dollars
In dollar terms, municipalities expect to spend $4.14 billion for new construction in 2010, an increase of 1.5 percent over the actual $4.04 spent in 2009. New construction for water should drop slightly (.8 percent) to $2.79 billion. Storm water spending will see a decline from $1.06 billion to about $1 billion.