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How inflation is impacting Tampa Bay infrastructure projects

Local contractors and transportation officials say they have managed to stave off the worst effects of global supply chain problems
Construction at Tampa International Airport June 22, 2021. Inflation is taking a toll on infrastructure projects nationwide and in Tampa Bay.
Construction at Tampa International Airport June 22, 2021. Inflation is taking a toll on infrastructure projects nationwide and in Tampa Bay. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published Jul. 29|Updated Aug. 8

Inflation is taking a toll on infrastructure projects nationwide, with rising prices for raw materials and longer wait times for parts complicating plans to build roads, bridges and water mains.

In Tampa Bay, contractors and transportation officials say they have been able to stave off the worst potential impacts.

“At this point, the department has been fortunate to not have had to halt any projects or move project awards,” said Kris Carson, regional spokesperson for the Department of Transportation. “Construction work of any kind has the potential to encounter unforeseen circumstances.”

But many projects are coming in higher than previous estimates, she added. “We are routinely seeing bids come in between 10% and 20% above previous estimates.”

Some suppliers are not guaranteeing their prices for as long as they used to, Carson said. And increases in fuel costs have impacted the availability of trucking, especially dump trucks.

The state’s transportation department has increased the allowable percentages of recycled asphalt pavement on some projects and is allowing contractors in some cases to delay the start of a project if they need additional time to procure necessary materials.

The repaving of a two-mile chunk of U.S. 98 in Hernando County, for example, has been pushed back 45 days so the aggregate, a coarse-grained material widely used in construction, can be delivered and stockpiled, ready to use when the project starts.

In Tampa, the start date for a project to improve access on North 62nd Street is delayed 60 days due to longer lead times for acquiring concrete drainage structures. Pre-pandemic, the process of getting the drainage products cast and delivered was three to four weeks. Now, it has more than quadrupled, said John Watson, CEO of Watson Civil Construction, Inc., the project’s contractor.

The construction industry nationwide is mired in postponements and rises costs. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $550 billion in new road, rail and broadband funding, has been hailed as a transformative shift for the country. But inflation has slashed billions from its value since President Joe Biden signed it into law last November, forcing some states to stall projects as costs balloon.

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg testified before the House Transportation committee last week to give an update on the infrastructure money, President Biden’s crowning legislative achievement and the result of months of grueling negotiations.

“The stakes are high. We want to get this money out,” said Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, a Democratic representative from Oregon. “Inflation is eating into what we can build.”

In Lansing, Michigan. the price tag to rebuild one mile of road jumped 60% of initial expectations, forcing city leaders to go back to the drawing board. In West Virginia, an airport project is costing millions of dollars more than expected. And in Georgia, an Atlanta-metro-area interchange reconstruction stalled amid COVID-related labor shortages.

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Construction at Tampa International Airport June 22, 2021.
Construction at Tampa International Airport June 22, 2021. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

The prices of some materials already were on the rise before inflation hit levels unseen in decades in May. The price of steel, for example, doubled in the year before Biden signed bipartisan infrastructure deal into law. It came down briefly after that but is back near its highest point ever.

Brad Miller, CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority said while inflation has touched every aspect of the agency’s operations, from labor costs to mechanical parts, the most substantial impact was the delayed delivery of electric buses, a key component in the agency’s ongoing mission to transform the fleet to clean and green by 2050.

Ronald Giroux, a project manager at Hillsborough County’s transit agency said while prices are higher lead times have been longer than normal, supply chain disruptions have not posed insurmountable barriers.

“We have also noticed vendors rates have increased for plumbers and electricians,” added Dale Smith, the agency’s director of facilities maintenance.

At Tampa International, the pandemic paused construction plans for the airport’s fifth airside, but the project could be completed by 2027. The price-tag is now around $780 million, a 14% increase from previous estimates. This mirrors hikes in the cost of materials such as structural steel and aluminum products, said John Mallory, the airport’s director of construction.

Identifying potential problems early on has been key to making sure the airport’s expansion continues to run smoothly in the uncertain global context, he added. “We’ve had very few surprises because of the pre-planning.”


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