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Top Project Starts Spark Hope for Regional Recovery

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Even as government agencies appear to be showing more austerity in their construction budgets, public projects are still making up the vast majority of big new projects in the region. Public projects outnumber private work 2-to-1 on the ENR Texas and Louisiana Top Starts ranking for 2011. More than $12.1 billion worth of projects, each valued at more than $50 million, broke ground in 2011, an increase from 2010.

Image courtesy of Linbeck/Zachry
The $110-million Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in San Antonio broke ground in October.
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Many contractors reaped the rewards. "In Texas, we are having the best year we've ever had," says Gary Nauert, regional manager in Texas for DPR Construction Inc., Austin. He says DPR sees opportunities in both public and private work. In addition to a good pipeline of health care and mission critical work, DPR's recent public projects include the $63-million Austin Energy Control Center, which the company began work on in May 2011, and the $56-million expansion of the high-performance computing facility at the University of Texas at Austin.

Civil contractor Webber, based in The Woodlands, Texas, exceeded its goals last year for booking new revenue, reports Bill Hasbrook, senior vice president of business development and public relations.

"Friends in other states ask how can we say we met our numbers when we are in a recession, and I say, 'We choose not to participate,'" Hasbrook says. "We are going after projects as aggressively as we always have. You are always going to have changes in the economic environment, and you have to adapt to them." Webber's big-dollar contracts with the Texas Dept. of Transportation include the $115.7-million SH 99 Grand Parkway Segment E, Section 4 at U.S. 290; the $106.6-million U.S. 75 from SH 121 to Wilson Creek; and the $100.9-million IH 35 from McLennan CL to FM 1304.

Kamal Ariss, vice president for business development for J.E. Dunn Construction's South Central region, Houston, also sees an improved market. "At all three of the J.E. Dunn offices in Texas, we've seen the light switch come on, and we're seeing a lot of positive opportunities in various market sectors," he adds.

J.E. Dunn began work in 2011 on the first phase of the $420-million Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. The local office of Skanska USA Building followed shortly behind, breaking ground on Phase 2 of Wilford Hall. "We're fortunate to be in Texas," adds Scott Cannon, senior vice president of Skanska.

Although Balfour Beatty Construction continued to land big deals through the recession, Charles E. DeVoe III, president of its North Texas division in Dallas, sees an overall uptick on the horizon. Last year, Balfour Beatty started work on the seven-year, $2.3-billion Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program.

The firm is part of BARC, a joint venture with Azteca Enterprise, H. J. Russell & Co. and CARCON Industries, all with Dallas offices. BARC is working on terminals A and C, while another joint venture, MBJ3, works on terminals B and E. The MBJ3 team includes Manhattan Construction, Thos. S. Byrne, James R. Thompson and 3i Construction, all in Dallas.

Transportation

As typically occurs, transportation projects dominate the ENR Texas & Louisiana's Top Starts list. Work in the sector contributed more than $6.1 billion in 2011 starts, half of the value of the entire ranking. Among the most prominent are the $2.6-billion LBJ Express, a public-private partnership to build the new roadway in the Dallas area; the Dallas-Fort Worth airport program; and the Manor Expressway. Central Texas Mobility Constructors, a joint venture of Webber and Texas Sterling Construction in Houston, began the $306-million Manor Expressway US 290 in Austin for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. Webber has four projects on the list, including the Manor project. Williams Brothers Construction of Houston has three and J.D. Abrams of Austin has two.

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