New York City boosts public works’ investments

The Big Apple reaches a new record: $83 billion spent in 2023 on large public works

New York City quickly bounced back to pre-Covid levels, and although it appears to be more disorderly and with basic services struggling to keep up with the new waves of tourists, it is again an open-air construction site, with a high rate of new construction or refurbishment of existing infrastructure. So much so that by the end of 2023 the total construction bill should be $83 billion, up an inflation-adjusted $13 billion from 2022.

That’s according to the New York Building Congress, which took into consideration the cost increase for materials and labor, as well as the constant supply chain issues. The expense of the last three years is 18% higher than before the pandemic. Residential building construction will amount to $26.4 billion by the end of the year, non residential is estimated at $34.9 billion, while government construction will reach $22 billion.

The figures are encouraging, according to the agency’s report. However, the number of housing units planned has dropped from 30,000 to 11,300 due to the end of the tax lowering program 421 scheme, launched in 1971 and altered several times over the years to sustain housing construction.

Tourists and open work sites: a test for infrastructure

NYC Tourism+Conventions also confirms that tourists are back, expecting 63 million people to visit the city this year, just under the record of 66.6 million in 2019. At this rate, the city expects 2024 to be a new boom year, recovering fully its tourist income, which collapsed by 73% in 2020.

The New York Port Authority, which manages the city’s ports, airports, bus terminals, bridges, tunnels, PATH train between New Jersey and Manhattan, and the World Trade Center, agrees, saying for example that the Big Apple’s three airports registered 108 million passengers in September, the highest ever number for that month. PATH carried more than 200,000 daily passengers for the first time since March 2020. And goods moved through the New York and New Jersey ports reached 5.8 million TEU, a 3% increase over 2019.

The metropolis needs large, sustainable, public works

The construction boom, though welcomed by many, has not completely assuaged New Yorkers’ fears after the latest weather events for the resilience of some of the city’s basic infrastructure. New York State, even before its most famous city, has passed a rule to lower emissions, an innovative step in the US. The move, called Buy Clean Concrete, sets limits on the concrete emissions in public construction and transportation projects financed by the state of New York.

The rule, which will take effect in 2025, is the result of the best practice of some builders rather than targeted regulation. An example of this is the Northeast Boundary Tunnel (NEBT) just completed in Washington DC by Webuild and its US unit Lane Construction. NEBT is designed to improve the quality of water in the rivers flowing around the nation’s capital and to reduce flooding by managing rain water and excess water flows. The project, a model of its kind, was realized by using a low carbon mix with low emissions thanks to bonding elements that replace traditional concrete.

Usually construction activity is a key indicator of the economic health of a region.  A report by the New York Building Congress shows a growth in hotel, retail and restaurants, production, entertainment and schools, as well as road construction. Fostering the growth of a healthy and resilient New York requires substantial changes, injecting vitally needed investments in critical areas such as transportation, environmental safeguards and social improvement. The Building Congress’ report, more  than a celebration of growth, is actually a warning to set sustainable goals for the city that never sleeps.