Highway and bridge construction starts on the rise in September

bridge construction workersNew construction starts rose 10 percent in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $604.1 billion, according to McGraw Hill Construction. The increase followed an up-and-down pattern during the previous two months, and brought activity to its highest level so far during 2014.

Nonbuilding construction saw a 38 percent increase at $162.9 billion with the electric utility category going up 107 percent, public works project types advancing 26 percent and river/harbor development rising 40 percent. Highways and bridge construction starts rose eight percent. Of the public works category, water supply construction was the only section to lose momentum, falling 27 percent.

Nonresidential building saw a big gain as well, increasing 15 percent to $228.5 billion. The institutional building group rose 33 percent, while transportation terminal work was up 171 percent. Educational facilities climbed 34 percent, healthcare facilities fell 44 percent and the manufacturing plant category rose 105 percent.

Residential building suffered a decrease of nine percent to $212.7 billion. This was mostly the result of a 23 percent decrease in multifamily housing and a three percent decrease in single family housing.

The first nine months of 2014 has seen a five percent gain for total construction. Since the start of the year, nonresidential building has climbed a total of 17 percent, residential building has increased six percent and nonbuilding construction decreased nine percent.

Altogether, total construction starts thus far this year have seen gains for the South Central, South Atlantic, Northeast, Midwest and West regions.

How new healthcare may affect you starting in 2015

healthcare moneyBeginning in 2015, employers with more than 50 employees are required to offer healthcare coverage to their full-time employees or otherwise be hit with a significant financial penalty. In 2016, this kicks in for smaller firms. A Willis Group Holdings P.L.C. survey found that 62 percent of the employers surveyed said they plan to comply with this mandate. Thirty-two percent of employers surveyed were undecided, and only 6 percent of those surveyed said that don’t plan to comply with the mandate.

Despite the majority of the employers surveyed planning to observe the mandate, that doesn’t mean these companies plan to extend benefits to employees’ spouses without adding in a surcharge. In fact, a Business Insurance report on the study indicated that 12 percent of employers already have added a special surcharge or have eliminated coverage to employees’ spouses if the spouse is eligible for coverage from his or her own employer. Between 2015 and 2018, 3 percent of employers surveyed plan to take this type of action. Another 20 percent are expected to do so, but no date has been set.

The Kaiser Family Foundation says that the average premium in 2013 for only covering employees was $5,884. However, adding a spouse can double the cost.

Of the respondents that identified a cost impact of health care reform, 54 percent noted a cost increase between 0 percent and 5 percent, while 22 percent estimated their increase in the 5- to 10-percent range – all while group medical costs for employers have continued to rise. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) indicated their health plan costs increased in 2014, the study indicated.

The Willis “Health Care Reform Survey 2014” study’s key findings are as follows:

  • Employers are choosing to “play” and continue to offer health benefits. “‘Moving away from benefit engagement’ was rated as extremely unlikely by over 60 percent of respondents and somewhat unlikely by another 17 percent,” according to the study. “Employers view their medical benefits as an important and desirable part of their compensation offerings and they will take steps to manage costs so that they can continue to offer benefits to their employees. This conclusion is also evidenced by the findings that the employers represented covered the vast majority of their full-time employees already, before any mandate to do so. That demonstrates the centrality and importance of group medical benefits to their compensation practices.”
  • Cost shifting is only part of the solution. Nearly 75 percent of respondents experienced an increase in their health plan costs from 2013 to 2014, but of those who had a cost increase, 22 percent of respondents kept employee contributions the same. Strategies other than cost shifting, which are being utilized by employers in attempts to contain costs, include increasing new hire waiting periods, reducing benefits to minimum essential coverage and managing seasonal and variable hour employees to reduce the number of potentially benefit eligible employees.
  • Private exchanges are emerging as a new distribution channel. While most employers have not finalized strategies, 20 percent of responding employers are considering private exchanges, and 8 percent have strategies in development. The opportunity to control costs through defined contributions while providing greater choice to their workforces (ideally combined with user-friendly technology based tools to assist employees with evaluating those choices) is an attractive prospect for many employers. The majority of respondents also indicated that they are likely to promote employee choice, engagement and consumerism as part of their benefits strategy.
  • The cost of health care reform is a top concern among responding employers, but many have not measured it. Nearly two-thirds of respondents replied that they have not identified the impact of health care reform. Forty four percent of respondents replied that they have not specifically identified the cost of the Cadillac tax. While this seems counterintuitive considering the significance and attention applied to the costs of health care reform, it demonstrates that employers’ focus has, in many cases, been drawn to the immediate compliance needs and administrative difficulties. Despite the fact that industry consultants have identified the concern over the impact of the Cadillac tax to their clients, lack of employer engagement on this topic might be because employers view the ongoing cost analysis as a “luxury” as compared to the day to day administrative requirements demanded of them more.
  • Delays have provided breathing room…but have not affected strategies. Though the announcement of the initial employer mandate delay in 2013 came too late for many employers to adjust their strategies, the majority of survey respondents (69 percent) indicated that the announcement did not have a major impact on their benefit plan decisions.
  • Plan design compliance requirements are being met, but administrative compliance has been delayed. The majority of employers (86 percent) have determined that they have a minimum value plan (defined as the plan covering 60 percent of medical costs), but half of respondents have not yet determined the standard measurement (or “look back”) periods and safe harbor methods (for purposes of determining affordability). Requirements that involve administrative changes, as opposed to benefit design and contributions, are more difficult to implement and have been delayed.
  • Employers continue to rely on their brokers for strategy and health care reform information. Keeping up with health care reform requirements is no small task and employers are overwhelmingly looking to brokers to keep them informed and up to date regarding regulatory changes.

For a downloadable PDF of the full study findings, including charts and graphs of the study’s key findings, please click here.

 

How is your employer handling this? Are you requiring a surcharge for spousal coverage? Is it just to cover costs? I’d love to hear from you about this at tinabarbaccia@randallreilly.com.

Several NMDOT employees fired following drunken party

NMDOTThe New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) had to make the tough decision to fire multiple employees following a party that got too rowdy.

The incident happened at Best Western Sally Port Inn where many workers were staying while they were in town for an annual convention. Around 90 employees attended the convention.

Restaurant employees say some workers got so drunk that the bartender refused to serve them. One employee became so intoxicated that he relieved himself on the bar floor. He was one of the several employees who found himself without a job.

“It’s unacceptable and we’ll take quick and immediate action,” said Department of Transportation Cabinet Secretary Tom Church.

Employees also say some workers trashed their hotel rooms and destroyed the hotel’s ATM. The employee who damaged the ATM is under investigation and may have to pay around $3,500 to fix the machine.

It’s an embarrassment to 2,400 really good employees out there,” said Church.

Despite the rowdy party, Church says he isn’t going to let a few bad apples spoil the bunch. The event is scheduled to go on as usual next year.

 

Kubota adds R530 and R630 wheel loader models

Kubota R30-SeriesKubota has added two additional models to its compact wheel loader lineup, the 47.9-horsepower R530 and 61.2-horsepower R630, in a press event this week that was capped by the company’s long-awaited announcement it was entering the skid steer market.

The R530 loader has an 8.2-foot clearance, allowing you to work under low-hanging branches and low bridges. It has a 25-foot 4-inch loader clearance circle turning radius and a with-bucket rated operating capacity of 2,546 pounds.

The R630’s electronic hydrostatic transmission has four operating modes – normal, eco, power and attachment – to handle specific tasks. The R630 is Kubota’s first wheel loader entry into the 60 to 80 horsepower range. With a dump clearance of 8 feet 3 inches, the R630 has 27-foot-3 inch loader clearance circle and a standard bucket capacity of 1 yard.

Both machines have a hybrid linkage system, which combines the advantages of Z- bar and parallel lift, and keeps the load level and steady while raising and lowering the lift arms. The articulation joint allows 8 degrees of frame oscillation and 40 degrees articulation left and right. A diff lock switch immediately engages both front and wheel wheels for slip-free traction.

The common rail system electronically controls fuel injection timing on the Kubota EGR engine, resulting in better fuel economy and less engine noise. An automatic regeneration system burns accumulated soot in the diesel particulate filter; it can also convert to a manual function if you’re working in a highly combustible environment.

In the cab, rear visibility is enhanced by rounded glass corners and a sloped rear hood.  The models also have a four-post design. A wide front windshield and redesigned Z-bar linkage allow unobstructed views to the quick coupler. All major loader functions are operated on a single right-hand lever.

The two models brings to four the number of models included in Kubota’s compact loader line, which includes the R420S and the R520S.

This article was written by editorial director, Marcia Gruver Doyle.

Success regardless of gender: Kari Karst’s BX Civil & Construction

Kari Karst and a few of her employees.

Kari Karst and a few of her employees.

 

A successful woman-owned highway construction company, while not unheard of, isn’t something you read about every day.  In fact, only eight percent of construction businesses in the United States are currently owned by women.

Kari Karst, owner and president of BX Civil & Construction, is proud to be part of that eight percent.

“The company was founded in 1962 by the Buskerud family. They founded the company and ran the company for 20 years. Then the company was sold in 1982 to a company in Sioux Falls called Sweetman Construction. It was run as a wholly-owned subsidiary,” Karst tells Better Roads.

“In 1992 I was approached about purchasing the company. The reason I had the opportunity to do that is because I had a civil engineering background and I have a family history in highway construction. My father was actually the president of Sweetman Construction,” she says. “He was not an owner, but he was the president. He knew they were looking to potentially sell the company off to compete in the minority business enterprise world.”

Kari Karst

Kari Karst

At the time Karst was living in California working for Ingersoll Rand, a large industrial equipment manufacturer. The company she would soon acquire was small at the time, doing just $1.5 – $2 million worth of highway work as a subcontractor.

Under Karst’s leadership, the company has grown substantially. Since buying the company in 1992, it now has four times the workers and six times the revenue.

The administrative and project management staff at BX Civil & Construction does have more female workers than most highway construction companies, but Karst says that’s not on purpose.

“I have a lot of great males on my team too,” Karst says. “My vice president of field operations and vice president of internal operations are both young men who have come up through the ranks.”

Male or female, Karst wants her company to have the best workers possible. She would like to find a way to get more women interested in the industry though.

“My next goal is to figure out how to make that happen amongst the ranks because that’s not the case at all when you get into field supervision and below. In fact, right now we don’t have any women on the payroll who are field supervisors, laborers, truck drivers, etc.,” she says. “I want to figure out how to make road construction more favorable to women workers.”

Kari Karst and her female employees at BX Civil & Construction.

Kari Karst and her female employees at BX Civil & Construction.

 

Karst does see some advantages to being a woman in the industry. She says, in general, women are “more people oriented.” As the industry evolves, the ideal skillset for workers is starting to evolve as well.

“From a leadership standpoint they tend to empathize with employees and have those skills the workforce seems to look for today more than 20 years ago,” Karst says.

Karst does not like to focus on the fact that she’s a woman. Ideally, she would just like to be seen as a successful construction business owner, regardless of gender. She is extremely passionate about the industry and wants to see it continue to grow.

She shares the same concerns about the industry as anyone, including male construction business owners.

“A lot of people, not just woman, see highway construction as a temporary landing point,” Karst says, expressing her concern for the future of the industry. “They see it as something they can do temporary, but there’s a point they won’t be able to do it anymore because it’s physically too demanding. Not necessarily because of the physical strength standpoint but the time commitment and not being able to have another balanced life. We have to figure it out.”

Karst’s passion for the industry isn’t something she tries to hide. She loves her job and believes more people would fall in love with the industry too if they just gave it a chance.

“This is a really fun industry to be involved in,” she says. “It’s hard work and it has challenges just like any other industry does, but the rewards – and I don’t mean financial rewards, I mean the intangible rewards of building something that is going to have a legacy – is really a rare opportunity today. “

“The industry has to have the ability to change and to adapt to new cultures.”Unfortunately, the highway construction workforce is losing numbers, which isn’t a good sign for things to come. Karst doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she does think it’s time for the industry to make some changes.

“The industry has to have the ability to change and to adapt to new cultures in the workforce, whether that be the Hispanic culture or males and females, it’s a big challenge and we have to be willing to step up to the plate,” Karst says.

As for the future BX Civil & Construction, Karst is hesitant to think too far ahead. Right now she’s focused on continuing to grow the company. She does have two boys though, one who is currently studying construction management in college.

She’d be lying if she said she hasn’t thought about her boys one day taking over the company, but she wants them to work their way up the ladder first.

“I want them to experience working for somebody else first. I think it’s essential they learn to succeed somewhere else first.”

Get 10 Years of weather data to help snow removal estimates

Photo: Go iLawn

Photo: Go iLawn

 

In the fall of 2011, Go iLawn released its Snow Proposal Builder to help people prepare snow and ice management estimates.

However, Go iLawn quickly discovered that estimates also need to be based on weather data as well.

To help with this problem, the company re-launched the second version of the Proposal Builder.

The builder now includes weather information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Canadian National Climate data archives.

The Proposal Builder accesses a decade’s worth of historical weather data to help people build snow and ice management proposals.

To learn about the weather, users can select an airport or weather station from the list available. The builder displays the average snowfalls totals for that airport or weather station from the past 10 years.

Here are some ideas about what to include in your diagrams:

  • Denote areas of interest and special instructions
  • Label snow storage areas
  • Color-code sidewalks, parking lots, entrances etc.
  • Include contact information for property contacts
  • List recommended equipment
  • Indicate direction to push snow
  • Highlight property obstacles and safety hazards

Although Go iLawn was originally designed for landscapers, there’s no reason it couldn’t be of use to road construction crews around the country.

This article was originally written by Patty Vaughan, Online Managing Editor of Total Landscape Care.

WisDOT issues deer warning

White-tailed_Deer_Crossing_a_Road_Kensington_Metropark_MichiganThe Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is worried that there will be an increase in deer and vehicle crashes this fall. WisDOT is asking drivers to be extra cautious of deer, especially during October and November which is mating season for deer.

Since it’s mating season, WisDOT expects deer to increase their activity, particularly at dusk and dawn. Deer could unexpectedly dart onto roads and into the path of vehicles as they roam back and forth between their bedding and feeding areas.

“To avoid hitting deer with your vehicle, you need to slow down whenever you see them nearby. If you see one deer, there are probably more in the area that could dash in front of your vehicle,” says David Pabst, director of the WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety. “If you can’t avoid a deer in the road, it’s safer to hit the brakes and hit the deer than to swerve suddenly and try to miss it. If you swerve, you risk losing control of your vehicle and hitting another car or a stationary object like a tree.”

Last year, Wisconsin reportedly had a total of 18,338 deer and vehicle crashes.

And it’s not just Wisconsin. Drivers in any states with deer population should be a little extra cautious this fall.

Gov. Scott Walker considers replacing Wisconsin's gas tax

governor scott walkerWisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is considering replacing the state’s gasoline tax with a sales tax on gas and alternative vehicle fuel sources to stabilize long-term transportation funding. However, Walker offered few specifics, and the impact of charging a sales tax to consumers at the pump is unclear in comparison to the existing tax on gasoline suppliers that gets built into the pump price.

In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Walker said “getting rid of the gas tax entirely” and replacing it with a sales tax is “a realistic thing for us to look at.”

“Not as a revenue upper, but as a neutral conversion,” Walker said. “With the idea being that that could be stable, versus something that’s based on gallons of gas, which continues to go down.”

Walker did stress that his idea is not a full-fledged proposal, but it’s obvious he understands the importance of transportation funding.

“You’re trying to get the most equitable way to say, ‘How do you cover the people who actually use our roads and bridges and highways?’” Walker said. “If there’s multiple ways that you charge up or fuel your vehicle, then there should be an equitable way to say it’s a sales tax on gas or it’s a sales tax on electricity or it’s a sales tax on natural gas.”

Wisconsin will be short $15.3 billion over the next decade.It has been reported that Wisconsin will be short $15.3 billion over the next decade if the state wants to maintain its current service, traffic flow and road condition levels under the existing funding system. That’s due to road construction costs, but also declining gas tax revenue from more fuel-efficient vehicles and fewer miles traveled.

Several ideas have been thrown around to fix Wisconson’s transportation funding, including raising the state’s gas tax by 5 cents per gallon, increasing driver’s license and commercial vehicle registration fees, eliminating the sales tax exemption on the trade-in value of a vehicle, and adopting a mileage-based registration fee system for passenger vehicles and light trucks.

Walker, however, opposes raising the gas tax and questions the logistics of a mileage-based registration system.

We’ve all heard the saying, “no idea is a bad idea.” That saying is certainly up for debate, but it’s good to hear that more politicians are looking for highway funding solutions.

“It’s a very positive thing that not only the governor but elected officials and candidates on both sides are talking about the shortfall in transportation,” Patrick Goss, executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, said.

Flagman caught boozing on the job

Road Work signRoad construction zones are already unsafe enough without bringing alcohol into the mix. Yet that’s exactly what the flagman of a crew near Omena, Michigan, was recently caught doing.

According to a report from UpNorthLive.com, a truck driver passing by a road work zone on North West Bay Shore Drive on Monday called the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office to report what he thought looked a flagman drinking on the job.

A deputy made his way out to the work zone and “quickly determined” that the flagman was drunk, according to the website’s report.

His demeanor was likely the first clue but the second one was helpful as well: the 30-year-old flagman showed the deputy a cooler next to him filled with 24 cans of beer.

The worker also admitted to drinking Schnapps which a second witness told deputies he saw the man buy from a nearby store.

Deputies said the man was immediately removed from his position by the foreman on the site. However, you’ve got to wonder how no one on working on the site saw this going on, considering that he made little attempt to cover it up keeping his stash right next to his post and that at least two passersby saw him doing it.

Somehow, no charges are being brought against the likely former flagman. Luckily, he didn’t cause any accidents or injuries.

This article was written by Wayne Grayson, Online Managing Editor of Equipment World.

Frantz Filter bypass system has been reengineered

Frantz Filter

Purchased this year by Lubrication Specialties, Inc. (LSI), Frantz Filter has been rereleased with a superior filter media. LSI, the makers of Hot Shot’s Secret products, have reengineered the product’s filter media to better deliver an endless supply of pure, contaminate-free oil.

“Known for using the same ‘powered by science’ approach we take in developing Hot Shot’s Secret products, Frantz Filter was a strategic fit with our line of problem specific solutions,” stated Chris Gabrelcik, president of LSI. “Applying that mentality, we’ve reinvented the Frantz Filter media to now be the most efficient oil filter commercially available.”

While reengineering, LSI reviewed testing data from Frantz Filter, studied third-party lab reports and conducted internal baseline testing to develop the superior filtering media that uses dense, specially-engineered cellulose.

It now filters oil more than 10 times finer than an original equipment manufacturer’s filter, down to two microns.

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