Friday, 27 February 2009

Stimulus cash set to flow to NC housing


The News & Observer reports more than $10 billion in stimulus money announced by federal housing officials this week could help families move from the streets to permanent housing, pay for renovations to poor senior citizens' apartments and renovate houses in low-income communities.

The cash from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is among the first infusions of dollars to come from the economic stimulus bill that President Barack Obama signed into law this month.

Triangle-area housing advocates say they welcome the money, but there are still questions about how some of the dollars can be spent.

"In a couple of areas, this certainly is going to be an opportunity in people's lives that we haven't had previously," said Chris Estes, executive director of the N.C. Housing Coalition in Raleigh. "The challenge will be to ensure these resources will be allocated in a way that they get spent. It's not like we have a network of folks ready to jump."

Around North Carolina, local housing and redevelopment agencies learned late Wednesday how much they would get from more than $100 million being sent to the state. The bulk of the money, about $86 million, will initially go to the state and then get passed down to local communities in block grants, to pay for homelessness prevention and to help companies build affordable housing.

Across the state, money will pay for lead mitigation in Greenville and Charlotte and for tribal housing projects for the Lumbee, the Eastern Band of Cherokee and three other state-recognized tribes.

The announcement in Washington came just eight days after Obama signed the stimulus bill into law. Much of the money is focused on projects that can be put under contract within 120 days.

While local and state officials said Thursday they were excited about the news, many questions remain.

There is no state-run homelessness prevention office, for example, to spend the $22.2million headed to North Carolina, said Denise Neunaber, executive director of the N.C. Coalition to End Homelessness, a nonprofit agency in Raleigh.

That new money is designed to keep families on the verge of homelessness in housing, and to help families on the streets move quickly back into housing. Money could be spent on utility deposits, rental assistance or budget counseling, Neunaber said.

State and local leaders also aren't sure how they can spend millions in Community Development Block Grants, which usually go to revitalize struggling communities.

Every community has a wish list, but planners need to know just what they're allowed to do with the new funding, said Rae Buckley, a senior planner for the town of Chapel Hill.

Money will be spent on large-scale landscaping projects, installation of new gutters and a massive overhaul of hundreds of senior citizens' apartments in Glenwood Towers and Carriage House Apartments.

Harrison Shannon, chief executive officer of the Durham Housing Authority, announced the $4.4 million in new money Thursday to a cheering group of resident council presidents at a bi-monthly meeting.

The new dollars, on top of the $2.8 million in annual funding Durham will receive this year, will go far to tackle a long list of $47 million in renovation needs for about 1,500 housing units, Shannon said.

He expects to renovate cooling towers, replace boilers, install energy-efficient lighting in 160 apartments, upgrade smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and build a playground fence.

Click Here to view the complete News & Observer article.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

State government cuts could jeopardize school construction funds

Gov. Beverly Perdue on Wednesday ordered deeper cuts in state government, a move that could potentially jeopardize future school construction funds.

Taking steps to manage North Carolina's growing budget crisis, Perdue asked state agencies to reduce their budgets this year by as much as 9 percent, the News & Observer reports. Last month, Perdue had asked for 7 percent cuts.

To help keep the state out of the red, Perdue also said she would dip into various special funds for $300 million that had been reserved for school construction, textbooks purchases and water and sewer projects.

"The state constitution requires that I balance the state budget," Perdue, a Democrat, said in a statement, "and I will do that while protecting public education as much as possible."

In asking for deeper cuts, Perdue did not specify which programs are on the chopping block. But her office released a list of some of the programs that her budget office is considering for cuts.

Those include seven smaller and older state prisons, ending state funding for the High Point Furniture Market, eliminating the Labor Department's apprenticeship program and ending state meat and poultry inspection programs."It definitely says the situation is getting worse," said Elaine Mejia, a budget analyst with the N.C. Budget and Tax Center. "A 9 percent cut is really significant. You're approaching the point where you will see real reductions in services and layoffs of employees."

As a precautionary step, Perdue said she would transfer up to $300 million from several special accounts into the state's General Fund. Those are $100 million from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, $100 million from the Public School Building Capital Fund, $50 million from the Public School Text Book Fund and $50 million from the lottery reserve fund.

According to a Citizen-Times news article, Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said the governor hasn't ordered budget cuts in school construction. Pearson said the budget move by Perdue on Wednesday, to transfer money from several special state funds to the state's general fund, including $100 million in school construction money, is only a step to manage cash flow.

It won't affect “existing activities supported by these special funds,” the governor's office said in a statement.

Click here to read the complete News & Observer article. The Citizen-Times story is found Here.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

NC lines up stimulus projects


Gov. Beverly Perdue said that 70 highway and bridge projects will be built with the first $466 million of federal transportation stimulus money heading to North Carolina, the News & Observer reported today.

From widening a road to benefit the Global TransPark in Lenoir County to replacing a bridge in Cherokee County, Perdue said transportation officials think the projects could generate 14,000 jobs.

As much as $93 million in the projects should be open to bidding next month, a state Department of Transportation official said. Others will follow.

"I'm here because I wanted North Carolina to be one of the first states in America to begin putting people back to work," Perdue said at an Interstate 40/85 rest stop in Alamance County.

Department of Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said the $10 million resurfacing project along eight miles of highway near the rest stop will help improve commerce along the heavily trafficked corridor. He said the project should create 300 jobs and run through November 2010.

The project is among those receiving the first round of money from at least $838 million in transportation-related funds coming to the state as part of the $787 billion federal stimulus package. The projects were first mainly because they can be under contract by June, Perdue said.

The governor said details about the next round of road and bridge projects, including many larger projects in the state's metropolitan areas that will take longer to start, would be included on a list released by early April.

"My administration is working closely with local communities to determine which projects can be ready most quickly and deliver the greatest benefit," Perdue said.

Among the priciest projects announced Tuesday was a $64.3 million road and bridge replacement on Crescent Road in Lenoir County that will complete interstate-grade road access between U.S. 70 and the Global TransPark, DOT spokesman Ernie Seneca said. The project could begin construction as early as July, he said.

Another $63.4 million will be spent on extending the I-295 loop project around Fayetteville, northwest of the city's center.

The federal stimulus bill requires the state to obligate half of the transportation money within 120 days of receiving it.

The remaining projects must be obligated within a year, and Perdue asked for patience from those who might complain about how much funding was sent to their area.

North Carolina is expected to receive about $6.1 billion from the stimulus package. The Perdue administration thinks it can tap into $3.7 billion of it through mid-2011 to narrow the state's budget shortfall.

Click here for complete News & Observer article. A list of the first batch of state DOT stimulus projects is available at http://tinyurl.com/b4ah6c.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

NC may get stimulus money this week


Gov. Beverly Perdue said North Carolina may see some federal stimulus money by the end of the week.

The News & Observer reported she had been assured by President Barack Obama that the first round of stimulus spending will begin as soon as Wednesday.

Perdue said the money will help build roads, create environmentally friendly jobs and save teachers' jobs in North Carolina.

The first of the federal stimulus money allocated to North Carolina will go to finish the highway project linking U.S. 70 to U.S. 258 in Kinston, Perdue announced Tuesday morning at the Global TransPark.

The governor announced the $64 million project is part of $466 million in federal economic funding that will be used on 70 highway and bridge projects throughout the state.

NC Secretary of Transportation Gene Conti said contracts for the Felix Harvey Parkway work project will be let in May and construction will start "soon thereafter". He said the project will take 30 to 36 months to complete.

Gov. Perdue said this highway construction project is expected to save or create 1,900 secondary or primary jobs.

Perdue said that projects like the 70 highway and bridge projects will be listed online, saying she will unveil a Web site by the end of the week that will track all of the state's spending from the federal stimulus package, including all grant recipients.

"We're going to be accountable to the public," she said. "At the end of the day, we're going to be able to measure what the outcomes are, so we're not going to throw money away. We're going to be efficient, and we're going to be sophisticated."

Click here to read the complete News & Observer article.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Balfour Beatty buys RT Dooley Construction


Balfour Beatty is general contractor for UNC Charlotte Student Union building scheduled for completion in the spring 2009.

Balfour Beatty Construction today announced its intent to acquire Charlotte-based RT Dooley Construction Co. for about $40 million according to UK's Building Magazine.

RT Dooley, a family-owned firm with 2008 revenues of $306 million, specializes in corporate headquarters, corporate interiors and mission-critical infrastructure and is currently operating in five states. With the completion of the acquisition, RT Dooley joins Balfour Beatty Construction’s Charlotte-based Southeast Division in an enterprise blending its own expertise with Balfour Beatty Construction’s experience in exterior core and shell construction and backed by London-based Balfour Beatty plc, a global construction, engineering and investment services business exceeding $14 billion in annual revenues.

“This acquisition is consistent with Balfour Beatty’s long-standing strategy of continually expanding the range of products and services we can deliver to our clients,” said Ian Tyler, chief executive of Balfour Beatty plc. “I am enthusiastic about our organization providing RT Dooley with the global reach to fulfill their clients’ project delivery needs worldwide.”

Because of the complementary nature of the companies’ businesses, no staff cuts are planned as a result of the acquisition. RT Dooley, which will be known as RT Dooley – A Balfour Beatty Company, will remain at its current location, operating under its current leadership team with a similar degree of autonomy as other companies that have joined the Balfour Beatty family of businesses in the U.S., said Bill Blank, division president for Balfour Beatty Construction in the Southeast.

“As competitors and occasional collaborators with RT Dooley, we can’t overstate the respect and admiration we have for the integrity, drive and dedication to client service of Bob and David Dooley and the rest of the management team,” Blank said. “Knowing that this young and accomplished group is in place to provide continuity and lead RT Dooley’s future growth is one of the most exciting aspects of our new strategic partnership.”

The Charlotte Observer interviewed CEO David Dooley who said the 140-employee firm engaged McColl Partners, an investment banking firm, to advise it on growth opportunities last spring after determining that it would be difficult to expand on its own.

The 32-year-old, family-owned firm's principals began talking with Balfour Beatty last fall.

“The economy has deteriorated since we started the process,” Dooley said, “but our business is very strong. Last year was our best year in history in terms of revenue and profits.”

To read the Balfour Beatty press release, click here. The Charlotte Observer article appears Here.

Friday, 20 February 2009

NC road builders eager for stimulus funds


The Charlotte Observer reports state road contractors believe federal cash will help avoid layoffs. The stimulus bill includes $735 million for North Carolina road and bridge projects. The N.C. Department of Transportation Division that includes Charlotte will receive about $75 million, which is a nearly one-time doubling of its annual $90 million budget.

For the last several months, Boggs Paving has been taking jobs without a profit so it doesn't have to sell equipment and cut its staff of 350 people.

The Monroe company might have cut costs earlier, but it's been treading water in anticipation of the federal stimulus package.

“We had to more of less bite the bullet and take some work that's definitely not profitable,” said Boggs Paving Vice President Greg Miller. “At least it keeps our people here. We didn't want to lose them, and we knew the stimulus was coming.”

Miller and other contractors say they think the stimulus will help them avoid layoffs through 2009. But they aren't sure if there will be enough new road and bridge work to hire a flurry of new paver operators, estimators and project managers.

For them, the stimulus may be more about job preservation than creation.

“The stimulus package – I wouldn't necessarily say it will bring things back to normal. This is a one-time thing. What's going to happen after that?” Miller asked.

President Obama has likened the stimulus bill as a massive investment in infrastructure, similar to the construction of the interstate highway system 50 years ago.

But some advocates of increased highway funding have been disappointed. Transit and passenger rail will see much greater percent increases over their existing funding, and other energy related programs such as weatherization of buildings will also see bigger budget increases than roads and bridges.

At first, stimulus money will replace funding lost from the state's steep decline in gas tax revenue and the highway use tax, which is generated from the purchase of new cars.

Barry Moose, the DOT's engineer who oversees the Charlotte area, said he's delayed several road projects, and his operations budget for patching potholes and mowing grass in medians has been cut 35 percent.

“And small projects – like turn lanes – all of those are shut down right now,” said Moose. “I'm not doing any of that right now.”

The stimulus has already advanced four area road projects that were going to be shelved because of no money. One is an $8.3 million widening of N.C. 51 from downtown Pineville to the South Carolina state line.

Moose said he doesn't think the stimulus money will spur contractors to go on a hiring binge. But the new money will keep them whole, he said.

“They are running out of work, and they are worried they will start mass layoffs soon,” Moose said. “That stimulus carrot has been hanging there for a long time. They are trying to keep their people in place.”

H.B. Rowe of Mount Airy laid off some employees last summer in anticipation of the downturn. The firm has 50 employees, and president Gerhard Picher said he's hunkered down for the last six months, trying to pay his bills. When H.B. Rowe now bids on a project, it faces so much competition that it makes little or no money on successful bids.

“Prices are really depressed,” Picher said. “There is just a tremendous amount of competition for work.” Moose said a typical road job two years ago would have attracted four bids. “Now I'm seeing 8, 10 and 12 bids,” Moose said. “That's an indication that people are running out of work, getting hungry.”

Miller, of Boggs Paving, said it's possible his firm could expand if it gets enough stimulus work. “I can see some additional crews being hired,” Miller said. “There is a skilled labor market out there that's looking for work.” Miller said one of the toughest decisions contractors may have to make is whether to invest in more equipment.

Most of the stimulus jobs will be small or medium-sized projects, with few costing more than $25 million.

But the state is also hoping to land funding for a replacement for the Interstate 85 bridge over the Yadkin River. Gov. Bev Perdue's office announced it's applying for money from a $1.5 billion discretionary pot of money for transportation projects.
The new bridge will cost at least $300 million. That project would be at least a two-year job.

Blythe Construction, which is widening U.S. 601 south of Monroe, is one of the Charlotte area's largest road builders. The firm hasn't laid off any of its 400 employees, though some part-timers have been let go in the slowdown.

“We're cautiously optimistic,” said Sandy Whitaker-Pratt, a communications manager for the builder. “But we have made a business plan to survive with or without the stimulus.”

Click here to read the complete Charlotte Observer article.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Incentives offered to lenders to stem foreclosures


President Obama pledges $75 billion to a program that includes cutting mortgage payments for as many as 9 million struggling homeowners.

The News & Observer reported even before President Obama finished his speech Wednesday outlining a $75 billion program to stem foreclosures, local homeowners struggling to pay mortgages were calling credit counseling agencies, hungry for details.

"There are so many people who owe more on their homes than they are worth," said Rebekah O'Connell, a consumer credit and housing counselor who takes calls at Triangle Family Services, a private nonprofit.

"I really want to tell people it's going to help. This money will not be in the pipeline tomorrow morning."

North Carolina has been spared the worst of the nation's housing bust. Its foreclosures are the lowest in the Southeast, though about 54,000 foreclosure proceedings were started in 2008.

Foreclosures are devastating to homeowners, but the economic impact is far broader. A concentration of foreclosures, for example, hurts values of nearby houses. And the increase in foreclosures bears much of the blame for the country's housing slump.

The number of North Carolina foreclosures begun in January was down 59 percent from January 2008, according to data from the Administrative Office of the Courts. That's in large part because some lenders are delaying new foreclosure proceedings in anticipation of the new federal program, state banking officials said.

O'Connell, the credit counselor, said the new program would require cooperation of lenders to modify loans -- something that has been difficult to achieve so far.

The plan outlined by Obama offers incentives to lenders and helps homeowners in danger of losing their homes.

It aims to trim monthly mortgage payments to manageable levels, defined as no more than 31 percent of a homeowner's income. If lenders reduce the interest rate on a loan and lose $400 a month, for example, the federal government would repay the lender half that amount. The lender would reduce its risk of having a homeowner go into default.

It's really the first time the federal government has offered lenders an incentive to reduce interest rates on troubled home loans, said Mark Pearce, North Carolina's deputy banking commissioner.

"It's certainly a big step forward," Pearce said. "The government is essentially saying we'll share some of the pain to encourage you to make sensible modifications to keep people in their houses."

Pearce said the interest-rate reductions proposed are different than loan modifications, in which lenders package all the delinquent payments and charges into a new loan with a higher payment that many struggling homeowners still can't afford.

"That's called kicking the can down the road," Pearce said. "This program is trying to get mortgage services to stop doing that."

Last year, the North Carolina legislature approved several pieces of legislation aimed at protecting homeowners facing foreclosure, stopping mortgage brokers from benefiting from high-cost loans and giving the state more authority over companies that service mortgage loans.

Lenders now must give homeowners and the NC Banking Commission 45 days' notice before a foreclosure is filed. A new law also gives the commission the power to negotiate with lenders on behalf of the consumer.

Click here to view the complete News & Observer article.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Stimulus to create 105,000 NC jobs


Quoting White House figures, the News and Observer reported that the $787 billion stimulus package that President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday would create or save 105,000 jobs in North Carolina over the next two years. Nationally, it estimated 3.5 million jobs.

Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wachovia bank, said the estimates are probably a little high, but still within reason because they are not "wildly optimistic." He said there's no real way to know how many new jobs there will be because of the stimulus effort.

If the numbers prove accurate, they should make a noticeable dent in the state's unemployment rate, which was 8.7 percent in December. The estimated 105,000 jobs would be more than one-fourth of the 397,000 unemployed workers.

The White House said it relied on an analysis by top economists with the Council of Economic Advisers and for the vice president, and detailed estimates of the age, employment and industrial makeup of each state.

It did not release the exact calculations used to produce the estimates. The analysis it cited was from January and was based on a hypothetical stimulus package, not the one actually passed by Congress.

"It should be understood that all of the estimates presented in this memo are subject to significant margins of error," the authors of the analysis wrote.

Among the problems they cited: The model was not based on the final bill, the actual effects of the spending can't be known ahead of time, and the current recession is unusual in its size and causes.

Mike Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, said he thinks Obama's advisers are overestimating the number of secondary jobs created by new spending on things such as roads and schools.

He said the extra work may be offset by the effects of massive government borrowing on Wall Street. The debt incurred by the stimulus package, he argued, could "crowd out" private borrowing that would otherwise create jobs.

The White House announced a Web site, http://www.recovery.gov, that will allow tracking of where the stimulus money is spent. The White House also announced job growth projections for each state and congressional district.

Chrissy Pearson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Beverly Perdue, said she has been careful to cite the White House when using the numbers, because her advisers haven't been able to independently confirm them.

Click here to read the complete News & Observer article. View the estimated number of jobs saved or created in NC by Congressional District here.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

NC expects a green boost


The economic stimulus will send a cash infusion to alternative energy industries in North Carolina. The state's green construction and alternative energy industries are bracing for a jolt from the state's share of the federal stimulus package.

According to the story in the News & Observer, state leaders and energy experts are still unsure about the precise amount headed for jobs such as building solar panels or retrofitting government buildings to save energy. Energy experts say it will be massive compared with what green companies are accustomed to. From the $6.1 billion that is headed for the state, nearly $113 million will be designated for low-income families and senior citizens to weatherize their homes.

The State Energy Office, meanwhile, is expecting at least 12 times its typical federal allocation of less than $1 million a year, and perhaps as much as $77 million, for efforts to boost energy efficiency and alternative energy.

Everyone involved, from companies that will do the work to the government officials who will dispense the money, has been been scrambling to plan for the flood of cash, despite budgets too tight to hire and the uncertainty about the money and stipulations that federal officials may add.

"There is only so much we can do before we know what we're getting," said Chrissy Pearson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Beverly Perdue. "There will be a team of accountability folks, and it will be worked out very quickly, though, because we want to put this money to work fast and do it in a way that is accountable."

People in departments across the state government had been pulling together lists of projects that might fit whatever uses are allowed for the money, and consulting with technical experts, advocates, university and community college officials, and business owners.

State leaders and those in municipalities have been pulling together lists of "shovel-ready" projects. Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen said officials from several departments also have been meeting to plan as much as they can without having more detail.

"If anybody can react quickly to something like this, it's local governments," Allen said, "because we don't have as many layers, legislative or administrative, to push through."

Adding to the challenge of spending the money responsibly is the fact that it will arrive quickly, leaving little time to prepare, and will have to be spent quickly, too.

Steve Kalland, director of the N.C. Solar Center at N.C. State University, was among a small group from several states who met with Energy Secretary Steve Chu last week. Chu said that money could start flowing to states within 30 days of the final approval of the stimulus package, compared with a more typical 12- to 18-month wait for such funds.

Gov. Beverly Perdue said she is preparing to spend North Carolina's slice of an economic stimulus plan quickly, hoping to infuse the cash into projects to get people to work and get the attention of Washington.

Perdue said she is putting together a panel to oversee the spending of the stimulus money and that she's lining up projects so that they can use the money quickly. She wants North Carolina to invest so quickly and efficiently that the state might be able to spend the money before other states that remain stuck in bureaucracy. Her office released a list of billions of dollars worth of "shovel-ready" projects, spanning from roads to school construction to wastewater improvements.

North Carolina is expecting to receive at least $6.1 billion from the $787 billion stimulus plan expected to be signed by President Obama today.

Click Here to read the complete News & Observer story.

Monday, 16 February 2009

NC to receive $6.1 billion from stimulus plan


The Fayetteville Observer reported North Carolina is expecting to receive $6.1 billion from the $787 billion federal stimulus package that Congress passed late Friday night. The preliminary figures were calculated by the state’s Washington office and matched data provided by Federal Funds Information for States, a service of the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

State officials cautioned that they don’t yet know if there will be limits on how that money is spent. The sums in the compromise package are less than some state officials had hoped.

“Obviously, there were other layers of money that we hoped would be funded and didn’t come through,” said Chrissy Pearson, a spokeswoman for NC Governor Bev Perdue. “We’ll take the money that they’re going to send us and put it to good use. That doesn’t mean that the federal stimulus is a magic bullet.”

North Carolina’s share of the stimulus plan includes about $1.2 billion for state education programs and $253 million that can be used more flexibly to stabilize the state’s looming budget gap. More than half of North Carolina’s annual budget is spent on education, from public school kindergarten through the university system.

The combined $1.43 billion over two years in the compromise was less than the $1.8 billion that the state would have received under the version the U.S. House approved last month. Perdue had anticipated more than $900 million in federal aid to help narrow a gap in the current year’s state budget of about $2 billion. She said there will be cuts from current spending despite federal help.

“The federal Medicaid infusion, spread over 27 months, may help stave off budget cuts that might have forced layoffs, Crawford said. The state’s Medicaid spending was forecast to cost nearly $3 billion of North Carolina’s $21 billion budget for the year ending in June. The increased federal spending on Medicaid means the state will be able to divert $720 million in state funds to other uses between now and June, said Canaan Huie, finance counsel to state House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange.

The stimulus plan includes another $339 million to bolster North Carolina schools that have concentrations of poor children, plus $334 million for special education and $17 million for Head Start.

The infrastructure spending seen as pumping money into delayed construction projects includes $776 million for replacing and repairing the state’s highways and bridges, $131 million for mass transit, $66 million for drinking water treatment, $72 million for sewers and $113 million for making homes more energy efficient.

To read the complete Fayetteville Observer story, click here.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Congress passes $787 billion stimulus bill


Congress passed a $787 billion stimulus bill Friday night in hopes of combating the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. President Obama is expected to sign it within a few days.

Supporters said the legislation would save or create 3.5 million jobs. The Senate approved the measure 60-38 with three GOP moderates providing crucial support - the only members of their party to back it. Hours earlier, the House vote was 246-183 in favor of the package of tax cuts and federal spending that President Obama has made the centerpiece of his plan for economic recovery.

The legislation provides billions of dollars to aid victims of the recession through unemployment benefits, food stamps, medical care, job retraining and more. Tens of billions are ticketed for the states to offset cuts they might otherwise have to make in aid to schools and local governments, and there is more than $48 billion for transportation projects such as road and bridge construction, mass transit and high-speed rail.

Democrats said the bill's tax cuts would help 95 percent of all Americans, much of the relief in the form of a break of $400 for individuals and $800 for couples. In a bow to political reality, lawmakers included $70 billion to shelter upper middle-class and wealthier taxpayers from an income tax increase that would otherwise hit them. Also included were funds for two of Obama's initiatives, the expansion of computerized information technology in the health care industry and billions to create so-called green jobs the administration says will begin reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House agreed to trim billions in spending from the original $820 billion House-passed bill, enough to obtain the backing of GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. It was further trimmed to hold the support of the moderates whose opposed a new program for federal school construction. In the end, a compromise was reached that allows states to use funds for modernizing schools.

In addition to tax relief for individuals and businesses who purchase new equipment, lawmakers inserted breaks for first-time homebuyers and consumers purchasing new cars in an attempt to aid two industries particularly hard-hit by the recession. In response to pressure from lawmakers from Pennsylvania, Indiana and elsewhere, the bill was altered at the last minute to permit the buyers of recreational vehicles and motorcycles to claim the same break as those buying cars and light trucks.

Click Here to view the complete Associated Press story. Further highlights of the final stimulus package are found on the CharlotteObserver.com.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Charlotte Area Stimulus Wish List: $1 Billion


The U.S. Senate approved an $838.2-billion economic stimulus bill yesterday by a 61-37 vote. The Senate package now must be reconciled with the estimated $819.5-billion stimulus measure that the House passed on Jan. 28. The House bill has about $160 billion for construction programs and the Senate's contains about $130 billion.

The Charlotte Observer reported the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County compiled a $1 billion local stimulus wish list. Odds are only a fraction of the requests will win funding under any spending program. Charlotte-Mecklenburg's combined total amounts to more than one percent of the stimulus bill, and their infrastructure requests exceed the amount of money the entire state is expected to receive for building projects.

City staff members identified the following potential projects which could qualify for funding from the stimulus bill. Job creation estimates are based on a Federal Highway Administration estimate of 28 jobs per $1 million of investment. Job estimates are in parenthesis.

Energy

Energy efficient lighting replacement at multiple city buildings – $200,000 (6)
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department green roof – $300,000 (8)
Utilities, air conditioner equipment upgrade – $1 million (28)
Discovery Place chiller – $1 million (28)
Utilities operations center, LEED certification – $12 million (336)

Transportation

Thomasboro/Hoskins neighborhood improvement – $3 million (84)
Central Avenue improvements at Eastland Mall – $2 million (56)
Traffic control management optimization – $2 million (56)
Pedestrian safety/sidewalk (Wintercrest, Fairview, Cristman, Orr, Shasta, Iverson, Lynhurst, W.T. Harris, Kings Drive, Bascom) – $2.6 million (72)
Little Rock Road realignment – $8 million (224)
N.C. 29/U.S. 49 widening phase 2, North Tryon St. widening – $13 million (364)
Traffic control management expansion – $5 million (140)
Fred D. Alexander Boulevard – $22 million (616)
Intersection improvements (South Boulevard left turn lane; South West/Pennsylvania; W.T. Harris/Milton; Mt. Carmel left turn lane; Ballantyne Commons/Johnston left turn lane; Freedom/Stewart Creek Parkway; Kenilworth/Pearl) – $7.4 million (207)

Transit

North Davidson maintenance facility – $30 million (840)
Lynx Blue Line enhancements – $110 million (3,080)
North Corridor grade crossings – $30 million (840)
Bus purchases – $90 million (2,520)
Transportation Center improvements – $15 million (420)
North Corridor construction – $335 million (9,380)
Park and Ride lots – $10 million (280)

Utilities

Wastewater collection system rehab – $4.5 million (126)
Reedy Creek wastewater collection system – $39 million (1,092)
Beatties Ford Road Water Main – $600,000 (16)
Franklin Water Plant reservoir expansion – $35 million (980)
McAlpine Wastewater Treatment Plant Filter Expansion – $1.6 million (45)
Griffith Street Liftstation upgrade – $1.6 million (45)
Wastewater collection system hydraulic models – $2 million (56)

Stormwater

Burstonwood storm drainage improvements – $1 million (28)
Rockland Road Culvert Replacement – $1 million (28)
Stream Restoration – $2 million (56)
Wilora Lake Rehabilitation – $1 million (28)
Storm drain repairs – $2 million (56)

Mecklenburg County

Mecklenburg County officials said they have identified $170 million in projects that would create an estimated 4,760 jobs.
CPCC's Harris Campus expansion – welding instituted $9 million
CPCC parking deck – $16 million
Greenways/urban connectivity – $6.8 million
Memorial Stadium/Grady Cole Center renovations – $25.5 million
Several parks – $22 million
Freedom Center – $75 million
Solid waste facilities – $7.7 million
Storm water systems – 5.6 million
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
New schools – $123 million
School renovations and repairs – $126 million
Preventive maintenance for air quality and health – $13.5 million

North Carolina

Lawmakers are still working out details of the stimulus bill. Here are some projects aimed at North Carolina in the version that passed the Senate on Tuesday:

Drinking water infrastructure – $66 million
Other water infrastructure – $72 million
Highway funds – $730 million
Mass transit – $131 million
Homelessness prevention – $29 million
Special education grants – $366 million
Computers and software in classrooms – $25 million
For matching the unemployed to job openings – $11 million
Weatherization assistance – $78 million
Food stamps – $400 million

Click Here to view the entire Charlotte Observer story.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

NC projects ready to accept stimulus funding


Gov. Beverly Perdue released a list of North Carolina construction projects that could be funded by the federal stimulus bill. A sampling of the projects included:

* New schools, renovations or additions statewide, $345 million

* Charlotte's light rail, $140 million

* New public safety center in Raleigh, $226 million

* Weddington Road/Bruton Smith Boulevard improvements in Concord, $16 million

* Resurfacing Durham streets, $10 million

* Fayetteville's highway loop, $275 million

* Broadband Internet access to 80 percent of N.C. homes, $29 million

* Dredging Hatteras harbor, $76,000

* Renovate Davidson College residence hall, $2 million

* New Meredith College admissions building, $6 million

On Monday an $838 billion version of the legislation cleared a crucial test vote in the Senate by a 61-36 margin. For more information on the status of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, see the News & Observer article online.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Asbestos in Older Fixtures


Among the many occupations affected by asbestos exposure are those who build on, repair, or modify older structures. This would naturally affect those who work in the construction industry.

While many would believe that asbestos is banned in the U.S and is no longer an exposure hazard, they would be surprised to learn that nearly 80% of structures built prior to 1980 contain at least some asbestos containing material (products which contain at least 1% asbestos).

Where is asbestos found?

Asbestos was predominantly used as an insulation component and could therefore be found in nearly any product which required insulation qualities or heat resistance. Asbestos is made up of small but durable fiber and it was incorporated in many different compounds. Some of the most common are asbestos wall/attic insulation, pipe coverings, drywall, floor tile, and adhesives or bonding agents.

When does asbestos present a hazard?

Contrary to what people may think, not all asbestos materials present an immediate hazard. It is only when these materials are cracked, broken, or unstable that they present a hazard. OSHA dictates that asbestos material becomes hazardous when it is rendered friable, meaning it can easily be crushed or broken by human hand pressure.
Materials of this nature should be avoided.

What health effects are associated with asbestos exposure?

Asbestos exposure has been conclusively linked to a long list of respiratory complications, the most serious of which being the rare asbestos cancer mesothelioma. However, in addition to mesothelioma, asbestos exposure can cause chronic conditions like asbestosis and breathing difficulty. Many of those exposed to asbestos prior to 1980 were unaware of what they were dealing with. Today, we are lucky enough to know that these health complications are directly attributable to exposure and can be avoided by taking precaution around the materials as discussed above.

For those who have a history of working in the construction industry, it is imperative to monitor your respiratory health closely. Symptoms of asbestos-caused illnesses do not manifest for decades in some cases, and many former construction workers who find themselves diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer are well into their sixties at the time of their initial diagnosis.

If you are a construction worker or have worked in a related industry, talk to your doctor about asbestos exposure and the associated health issues.

Guest blog from the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center. The Center is a trusted Internet resource for mesothelioma cancer information. The website is accredited by the Health On The Net Foundation as a trustworthy source of medical information on the web and also approved by DisabilityInfo.gov as a reliable source of information for veterans and members of the military community.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Time to Show Support for the Economic Stimulus Package


It's time to show support for the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.” The construction funding included in this legislation will put construction-related businesses to work quickly on projects that are “shovel ready.”

Economists report that every $1 billion in investment in nonresidential construction creates 28,500 or more American jobs. And these are not just construction jobs; it includes materials suppliers, services providers, and equipment providers. This $1 billion will turn into $3.4 billion in GDP and $1.1 billion in personal income as workers participate in our economy. North Carolina contractors and suppliers are ready and able to start work as soon as they are awarded contracts.

Right now nothing is more important than increasing investment in America’s buildings, transportation system, power grid, water treatment facilities, and other major construction projects. Construction has always been an engine of economic stimulus and can play that role once again. The long-term economic benefits that will come from these investments are an extra incentive.

In addition to the crucial investment in our nation’s infrastructure, we support the tax relief provisions for small businesses and the tax incentives it provides for energy efficiency. Most of our readers are small businesses who need relief in order to weather this economic storm, retain employees and create new jobs. It’s time we communicate our support to the elected representatives in Congress.

Construction spending posts record drop in 2008


The U. S. Commerce Department reported today construction spending fell for a third straight month in December, closing out a year in which building activity fell by a record amount as housing continued to plunge.

The department says total construction spending dropped by 1.4 percent in December, slightly worse than the 1.2 percent decline economists expected.

For the year, total construction spending fell by a record 5.1 percent, surpassing the 2.1 percent decline in 2007. The weakness in both years reflected huge declines in home construction, which fell 27.2 percent last year, the largest drop on records going back to 1993.

Stephen Sandheer, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America said, “Today’s construction figures underscore the dramatic decline in business activity that is putting hundreds of thousands out of work, endangering the viability of tens of thousands of businesses and dragging on the broader economy. This is a stark reminder of the need for immediate and significant federal investments in vital construction and infrastructure projects."

"With these investments," Sandherr said, "Construction companies will be able to save jobs, expand payrolls and invest in equipment and supplies, while building the foundation for a stronger economy.”

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed the $819 billion economic stimulus package. The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate, where passage is expected sometime next week.

However, because the two bills will be somewhat different, they will need to be ironed out in a conference committee into a version that will then need passage again from the Senate and the House before making their way to President Barack Obama's desk.

Contractors who want to express support for the crucial investment in our nation's infrastructure can Login Here to send electronic messages to representatives in both the House and Senate to urge support for the economic recovery legislation.