Monday, August 15, 2011

Firms See Funding Shift In Clients and Projects

COURTESY OF THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK / NEW JERSEY A FIRST The Goethals Bridge replacement would be port authoritys first public-private partnership. Related Links: Top Design Firms -- Full report

Without a multiyear surface-transportation bill in place, designers find many state departments of transportation reluctant to make long-term plans and commit to multiyear projects. Since SAFETEA-LU expired in September 2009, highway and transit programs have operated under a series of stopgaps, the latest of which is scheduled to lapse on Sept. 30.

Although continuing resolutions have preceded passage of previous highway bills, this time the economic climate is different, says Fred Werner, executive vice president at Los Angeles-based AECOM.

"There was always some consternation in the past if there wasn't a dedicated multiyear bill, but there was very little downturn in state matching funds for projects," he says. "What makes this different and challenging is that you have very little support at the state and local level for any projects. We're seeing this as a very choppy market right now."

As a result, Werner says AECOM shifted much of its focus to agencies with dedicated funding streams, such as tolls or sales-tax programs.

One of its top prospects for years to come is the $40-billion, 30-year Measure R program in Los Angeles, funded by a sales-tax increase that voters approved in 2008. Although much of the program is aimed at transit work, billions of dollars are dedicated to projects within major corridors.

Kansas City, Mo.-based HNTB is taking a similar approach, leveraging its relationships with well-funded clients. The strategy helped grow revenue significantly in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut market, rising steadily to $74.8 million in 2010 from $33.5 million in 2006.

HNTB is serving as program manager for the $2.5-billion widening of 33 miles of the New Jersey Turnpike. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey also selected the firm for preliminary engineering on the $1-billion Goethals Bridge replacement.

It's a trend that Ken Graham, CEO of HNTB, expects to continue for the foreseeable future. "We've seen the majority of the toll authorities increasing tolls so that they are able to put forward substantial programs," he adds.

The port authority is considering proposals from teams to design, build, operate and maintain the Goethals Bridge replacement. The toll bridge connects Elizabeth, N.J., to Staten Island, N.Y. It would be the port authority's first project to use the public-private delivery method. HNTB, Omaha, Neb.-based HDR and Pasadena, Calif.-based Parsons are among the design firms aligned with the bidding teams.

Further, more toll-funded opportunities are on the horizon. Last year, Illinois and Indiana each signed legislation to build the Illiana Expressway, a proposed toll road that would connect Interstate 55, near Joliet, Ill., to I-65, near Lowell, Ind. New York City-based Parsons Brinckerhoff is the prime consultant for Tier 1 and Tier 2 environmental studies.

Despite economic uncertainty, the need to repair or replace the country's deteriorating bridges continues, says Charlie O'Reilly, eastern region transportation director for HDR Engineering. "The mix of projects out there has changed," he says. "There has been a shift away from capacity improvements toward focusing on fixing and maintaining existing infrastructure.