A trade group seeking $1.5 trillion to fund road, bridge and water projects across the country cites the Portland region to help make its case.

The Portland metro area lost about 400 construction jobs over the past year, placing it among the 10 cities with the highest percentage of such losses in the nation, according to a construction industry trade group.

The Associated General Contractors of America held a news conference Thursday in South Portland to make its case for a proposed $1.5 trillion national infrastructure overhaul that would fund road, bridge and waterway projects across the country over the next decade.

“There is little doubt that thousands more construction workers would be earning high wages here in Portland and metro areas around the country if the public sector were investing more in the nation’s aging infrastructure,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for Associated General Contractors. “The good news is we have a unique opportunity to enact new infrastructure funding when the new Congress convenes in January. That is because one of the few areas where Democrats and Republicans traditionally agree is on the economic benefits of investing in infrastructure.”

Simonson said that while most cities added construction jobs over the past 12 months, Portland lost such jobs at a faster rate than all but nine of the 358 metro areas nationwide where the trade group tracks construction employment. There are currently about 9,800 construction jobs in the Portland area, down from 10,200 a year ago, he said.

Statewide, Maine lost about 1,100 construction jobs over the past year, he said, going from 30,200 jobs to 29,100 jobs – a decrease of nearly 4 percent. While construction companies frequently complain about a lack of skilled construction workers in the state, Simonson said another problem is an inconsistency of work opportunities in Maine that could be alleviated with more public infrastructure projects.

In all, 43 U.S. metro areas lost construction jobs during the past year, while construction employment levels were stagnant in another 34 metro areas, according to Simonson.

He noted that President Trump already has called for $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure investments over the next 10 years to rebuild aging roads, bridges, waterways and other public works.

“He will have a great opportunity to demonstrate his ability to reach across the aisle and strike a deal early next year,” Simonson said.

America’s infrastructure is in dire need of improvement, he said, noting that the American Society of Civil Engineers has given it a grade of D+ because of its age, deterioration and overuse.

Investment in infrastructure would do a lot more than create jobs for construction workers, according to Simonson. It would create tens of thousands of manufacturing, mining and service jobs as equipment-makers, aggregate firms and other construction suppliers saw immediate boosts in new orders, he said.

“That new infrastructure will drive demand for new buildings and other developments in places like Portland,” Simonson said. “And it will make the economy more efficient and U.S. businesses more competitive. Instead of spending more on the extra vehicle repairs and wasted fuel, there will be more to invest in extra staff, new technology and more research.”

Thursday’s news conference was hosted by Hews Co., a South Portland company that builds, repairs and services a variety of commercial trucks and other equipment. Simonson said Hews is a good place to see the physical toll deteriorating infrastructure takes on commercial vehicles. Potholes and aging roads in southern Maine are tearing up such vehicles, he said.

“As a result, too many trucks are spending too much time being repaired, instead of making deliveries and shipping goods,” Simonson said.

Matt Marks, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Maine, said recently that approved highway bonds will not provide adequate funding to catch up on the backlog of critical infrastructure repairs needed in the state. He said Maine would need an additional $150 million to $250 million to make up the shortfall.

“We could be doing so much more,” Marks said.

Bob Hews, president of Hews Co., said nearly all goods in Maine are transported by truck, which makes it essential to maintain the state’s roads and bridges. He said Maine needs to think carefully about how it invests in infrastructure.

“Doing nothing is really not a good solution,” Hews said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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