Building: key to recovery

Posted Nov. 07, 2010, at 6:57 p.m.

In September, a delegation of Maine contractors had an opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to hear an update on the nation’s economy. While we were in town, we heard from economists, representatives of the construction industry and representatives of the banking system as they shared their insights into the continuing recession.

Historically, the construction industry has led the way out of recessions. The construction industry is facing an unemployment rate that is about twice the national average for all other jobs, and construction employment has declined 29 percent since its peak in April 2006. Based on these statistics, it is difficult to see how the construction industry is going to help lead the way out of this recession. Worse still, an uncertain regulatory climate in Washington is likely to limit construction activity for years to come.

Against this backdrop, there was an initiative that a does hold the promise of fixing our economy and the infrastructure upon which we all depend. Called the Building and Updating Infrastructure for Long-term Development Act, or BUILD Act, sponsored by Rep. Mike Michaud, it has the potential to help turn our economy around and allow us to make the reinvestment in infrastructure that are required for the private sector to flourish. In short, the BUILD Act would infuse existing federal surface transportation programs with unused American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money and result in a substantial program of transportation construction and job creation.

If passed, the BUILD Act would reallocate $65 billion of unused stimulus funds and send it back to the states where it would be used to repair the roads and bridges on which we all depend. All funds would flow through the existing formula for apportioning federal transportation dollars to the states. In Maine, this would mean an additional $246 million of investment in our crumbling transportation system. By way of scale, the ARRA contained less than $30 billion for roads and bridges and sent about $137 million to Maine.

According to Associated General Contractors of America Chief Economist Ken Simonson, an investment of the size contemplated in the BUILD Act would add $836 million Maine’s gross domestic product and would create or sustain about 7,000 jobs. The BUILD Act is endorsed by the following companies and associations: Pike Industries Inc., AGC-Maine, Maine Better Transportation Association, Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and Maine Motor Transport Association.

Passage of the BUILD Act would also fix the roads and bridges that we travel on every day. Let’s not forget that we lose more than 100 Mainers each year to traffic accidents, primarily on rural roads. It would also help with the average cost of $260 per year in additional repair costs that each Maine motorist faces annually as a result of travelling on our substandard roads.

We believe that the BUILD Act would provide a meaningful boost to the economy, a good return on taxpayer investments, reduce operating costs and improve safety, all of which promote sustainable economic growth for the long term. In the short term, this investment will provide badly needed jobs for Maine people while building the infrastructure that our future prosperity depends on.

Positioned as we are in the northeastern corner of the country surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Canada and just one other state, Maine’s future is inextricably linked to our willingness to invest in transportation infrastructure. While all states would benefit from congressional passage of the BUILD Act, Maine’s future competitiveness is directly tied to further infrastructure investment.

John O’Dea is chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of Maine.

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