THE FULL IMPACT of the COVID-19 global pandemic on the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry will not be known for many years. Yet it is already clear that many construction projects are experiencing partial delays or full stoppages as the pandemic spreads across the globe. In North America, associations and companies have organized surveys and created tools to help the AEC industry better understand the weekly and daily changes caused by the pandemic.
Between March 23 and March 27, Alison Premo Black, Ph.D., the chief economist of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), conducted a survey about transportation construction projects across the United States. The survey represented responses from a variety of businesses, including contractors, planning and design firms, materials suppliers, and state transportation officials, according to Black.
“ARTBA wanted to hear firsthand from the transportation construction industry how COVID-19 was impacting their business,” Black says. “We wanted to identify trends unique to transportation construction, which is different from general construction.”
“ARTBA wanted to hear firsthand
from the transportation construction industry
how COVID-19 was impacting their business.”
—Alison Premo Black, Ph.D., chief economist
of the American Road & Transportation
By March 27, 68 percent of respondents were experiencing impacts to their project schedules because of COVID-19, according to the ARTBA survey. Seventy-nine percent were working on projects that had been shut down by transportation agencies. Seventy-five percent were expecting some degree of, or major, financial impacts on their businesses.
Despite the respondents’ experiences, “in the short term, state [departments of transportation] continue to hold bid lettings and award projects as scheduled,” Black says. “Most states have designated transportation construction as an essential industry, which allows work to continue with strict safety guidelines in place.”
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) is also conducting surveys on the impacts of COVID-19 on construction. Its first survey of contractors was conducted from March 17 to March 19, with a new one conducted and released weekly after that.
The first AGC survey found that by March 19, orders to halt or cancel projects issued by government or statewide agencies were lower than that experienced by the ARTBA respondents. Just 28 percent of AGC’s respondents indicated that they had received cancellation orders at the time of the survey. By the end of the fourth survey on April 9, however, that number had grown to 35 percent.
The impact of COVID-19 on private and publicly owned projects was even more significant, however, with the number of orders to halt or cancel current projects (or those starting within the upcoming 30 days) climbing from 11 percent on March 19 to 30 percent by April 2. By April 9, that figure reached 60 percent.
An additional 11 percent of projects were canceled in the preconstruction phase by April 9, the first time that question was asked in the survey.
The repercussions of these delays and cancellations are widespread. “Inevitably, [delays and cancellations have] caused a growing number of contractors to furlough or terminate jobsite workers,” said Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist, in the organization’s press release about its most recent survey. Indeed, according to that survey, more than 40 percent of companies reported furloughing or terminating workers—from offices and jobsites—as a result of COVID-19-related events.
“Knowing these were uncertain times, we felt strongly that our COVID-19-related work should be available to everyone.”
—Todd Ciganek, executive vice president of information and data operations for ConstructConnect
ConstructConnect, a Cincinnati-based company that provides preconstruction software, has created two free tools to help the AEC industry in North America track project information as well as state and province orders related to construction status at a more granular level. The company is also offering free webcasts on the economic impact of COVID-19 on the construction industry.
The first tool is the daily Delayed Project Report for the United States and Canada, which tracks the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on projects in the design, bidding, and postbid stages, including projects that have been awarded but will have their construction starts delayed. This includes 18,000 projects that are actively bidding—50 percent of which are civil construction, according to Todd Ciganek, the executive vice president of information and data operations for ConstructConnect.
“Our content acquisition team reports on over five hundred thousand projects annually,” says Ciganek. “When we started seeing the impacts of COVID-19 on projects we were tracking, it was clear that this information would be useful to the industry via a Delayed Project Report. Knowing these were uncertain times, we felt strongly that our COVID-19-related work should be available to everyone.”
The company will keep its COVID-19 resources available and updated as long as it continues to see an economic impact on the construction industry, he says.
The delayed project information is available by state or province and in some areas by region and locality, with a full listing of project names. While this information is free, more detailed information about modifications to bid dates, mandatory prebid conferences, and start dates for projects that are still bidding are available to the company’s subscribers.
ConstructConnect also has a report that tracks by state whether construction has been determined to be an essential business as well as where projects have been shuttered. The report, which was last updated April 14, includes information about states’ statuses, using four classifications: no restrictions on construction, localized restrictions, statewide orders deeming construction as nonessential, and statewide orders deeming construction as essential. The report also includes details about local and regional shutdowns, such as those issued by large corporations and cities as well as state departments of transportation.
The free webcasts that ConstructConnect is presenting on the economic impact of COVID-19 on the construction industry can be accessed here.
—Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D., is the senior editor of Civil Engineering.