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Local engineering, construction companies add jobs with eye on infrastructure projects

COURTESY PHOTO: OREGON AMERICAN PUBLIC WORKS ASSOCIATION - Newbergs public works department has plenty of infrastructure work for its crews.

Oregon trade associations representing engineers, general contractors, asphalt pavers and others in the design and construction sectors say the federal infrastructure bill passed in early November already is generating a surge in hiring as companies prepare to bid on more than $5 billion worth of projects over the next five years.

American Council of Engineering Companies Oregon (ACEC) said its member firms provide engineering and other professional services that span the full spectrum of infrastructure projects funded by Congress, including all modes of transportation, electrification, communications technology, and water and sewer systems.

"We are hired by the agencies that receive these federal funds to help them deliver projects that benefit the public. The added funding will spur hiring and provide good-paying jobs for more people," said Alison Davis, ACEC Oregon executive director. "This is a great time for engineers and other technical professionals. There are many exciting projects to work on and the result will be safer, healthier and more efficient infrastructure."

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed Nov. 5, allocates $5.4 billion of the $1.2 trillion in federal funding to Oregon. This includes $1.2 billion for the Oregon Department of Transportation, though the act does not specify which projects must be funded.

A fact sheet issued by the White House breaks Oregon's allocation down as $747 million in public transit investments; $268 million for bridge replacement and repairs; $211 million for airport investments; and $52 million to expand the state's electric vehicle charging station network.

Another $529 million is designated to improve access to safe drinking water; $100 million for internet broadband expansion; $39 million to help protect against wildfires; and $15 million to protect against cyber attacks. The bill also reauthorizes the existing federal Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to generate $3.4 billion for road projects over five years.

The White House fact sheet states that Oregon can also compete for the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program for economically significant bridges, and nearly $16 billion in national funding in the bill dedicated for major projects that will deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.

Davis said that while some firms took a wait-and-see approach to hiring, others had already started to increase staff.

"Now that the bill has been signed into law, there will be more hiring in all sectors of infrastructure," Davis said.

ACEC Oregon Director Tina Adams, president of Casso Consulting Inc., said she is among the business owners who will be directly impacted by the investments. "As a small woman- and minority-owned company, we are thrilled at the growth opportunity the infrastructure bill provides while making our state and local communities better for everyone."

John Hickey, executive director of the Asphalt Paving Association of Oregon, said the bill's passage is overwhelmingly positive in ensuring Oregon's highway infrastructure, which supports a large segment of the state's economy, remains competitive. However, many details about how the federal funding will be allocated for road projects still need to be worked out.

"Exactly where the money gets spent is hugely important," he said, noting Oregon's pavement conditions are declining, pavement preservation projects require minimal permitting and design, and smoother highways reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hickey added that "pavement preservation funding has been very low in recent years due to an emphasis on urban projects."

Tony Roos, president of the American Public Works Association's Oregon chapter, said the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials works closely with APWA National and in late August analyzed the infrastructure bill's benefits to Oregon.

"The majority of ODOT's 2,700 bridges are more than 50 years old, the age at which they should be heading toward retirement, so Oregon's bridges are reaching a point of rapid deterioration," said Roos, principal engineer with Kittelson & Associates' Portland office.

Also of interest to the APWA Oregon chapter is the provision of $65 billion in funding for broadband investment, which has specific language to support rural areas. The infrastructure package also funds a new grant program, Safe Streets for All, which is specifically for state and local projects and aligns with Road to Zero goals.

The funding will allow public agencies to address safety issues, build community connections through trails, paths, and bicycle facilities, and improve water and wastewater infrastructure that has long been underfunded, Roos added.

"The topic of funding is a regular topic of discussion within our association, usually on how far the funding is being stretched," he said. "For the IIJA, we were hoping it would pass, but couldn't count on the funding. We are excited to deliver the infrastructure and jobs that the IIJA provides for."

Jason Tell, ACEC Oregon president and vice president of WSP USA, offered his appreciation to Congressman Peter DeFazio, Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Senator Ron Wyden.

"They were instrumental in passing this historic infrastructure bill. I can't wait to see all of the great projects that will result from this important bipartisan legislation," Tell said.

Melody Finnemore is a contract writer who regularly contributes to the Business Tribune. She can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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