Years of recovery in the construction sector have benefitted residential and commercial building projects, but in terms of public infrastructure, Missouri in general–and Kansas City in particular–are among the states and metro areas with the biggest construction job losses over the past year.
The reason, says the Associated General Contractors of America, is lack of public-sector financing, particularly at the state level. As a result, Kansas City ranks 3rd-worst among 358 metro areas in both percentage of construction jobs lost, and in numbers of those jobs.
With the deteriorating Broadway Bridge as a backdrop, the AGC’s chief economist, Ken Simonson, joined Bridgette Williams, executive director of the regional Heavy Contractors Association, and Don Greenwell, executive director of the AGC’s Kansas City Chapter, at a news conference this morning to call for additional funding for projects like the bridge replacement, a single-terminal Kansas City International Airport, and other large-scale jobs that can fuel broader economic activity.
Missouri, said Simonson, had lost 5,000 construction jobs over the past year, even as employment in that sector has grown nationwide. And the Missouri side of the Kansas City area has accounted for a disproportionate amount of that loss, with 3,100 jobs vanishing over that period. The rate of loss, he said, was “faster than just about any other metro area.”
It was somewhat ironic, he noted, that while commercial and residential construction were strong, the infrastructure work underpinning regional growth was faltering. “Many of those job losses,” he said, “could have been avoided.”
Williams pointed out problems with the bridge–maintained by the state–that aren’t visible to drivers of the 41,000 vehicles that use the it daily, especially the erosion of the concrete base in the mid-river pier, a condition that she says has reached critical status. “We don’t want another Minneapolis here,” she said, referring to the collapse of the I-35 West highway bridge there in 2007. She also noted that the expansion bearings are showing excessive wear, and said the lack of emergency lanes creates major traffic back-ups when a vehicle stalls.
Greenwell, concluding the news conference, noted that the nation’s economic recovery was nearly a decade old, yet little had been done in the way of major infrastructure improvements during a period of relative prosperity. “If we don’t maintain it now,” he asked, “when will we?”