Oil and Gas Taxes to Provide $1.1 Billion in Highway Funding

Road PavingHighways in Texas are slated to receive a much-needed boost in funding this year thanks to the state’s booming oil and natural gas industry. Under the terms of Proposition 1, a constitutional amendment which diverts a portion of oil and gas severance taxes to the TxDOT highway fund, Texas highways will receive $1.1 billion in funding over the next year. Based on the state comptroller’s revenue update for the current fiscal year, TxDOT is expected to receive an additional $1.37 billion from Proposition 1 in November 2018.

Transportation officials are understandably thrilled about the impact this influx of cash will have on the state’s current highway projects, but they’re more cautiously optimistic about its potential long-term impact.

“We’ll definitely take advantage of this new funding to do projects sooner than we would have,” said TxDOT’s chief financial officer Brian Ragland in an interview with the American-Statesman. “Does this mean more projects will get done in the long run? I can’t say with any certainty because it is so volatile.”

Proposition 1 funding is inherently volatile because it’s subject to fluctuations in oil and gas prices. In its first year the amendment generated $1.74 billion in highway funding, but it generated just $440 million two years later when oil prices and production began to slump. Oil prices have more than doubled since 2016, causing a pronounced windfall in Proposition 1 funding. If this oil and natural gas boom continues into 2019, TxDOT may be able to fast-track vital highway improvements that might otherwise take years to complete.

Texas to Receive More Than $5 Billion for Flood Control Projects

Flood Control ProjectConstruction crews in Texas are still working hard to help the state recover from the damage left by Hurricane Harvey in August of last year, but they’ll soon have help from a federal disaster relief package that provides more than $5 billion for repairs, flood control projects and studies.

Close to $4 billion of that funding has been allotted toward an ambitious project to build a coastal protection system that could protect the state from deadly storm surges during future hurricanes. This project will involve building close to 27 miles of coastal levees in Orange County and reinforcing another 30 miles of existing levees in Port Arthur and Freeport.

Much of the remaining funding will be devoted to flood control projects and repairs in the Houston area, some of which are already underway. These include three major bayou-widening projects, a dredging operation in the Houston Ship Channel and a revised flood control project on Clear Creek in southeast Harris County. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will also receive $3 million to conduct an extensive study of the Houston area’s watersheds.

“The billions allocated to Texas today is welcome news as we continue to rebuild in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey,” said Governor Greg Abbott in a statement. “This funding will go a long way toward future-proofing Texas against another hurricane and strengthening our infrastructure to withstand dangerous flooding.”

Thanks to the efforts of our state’s construction workers and the funding from this relief package, Texas will soon have the modern infrastructure it needs to resist flooding from major weather events in the future.

Workforce Reports Find Healthy Job Growth in Houston

Construction Workers There’s never been a better time to look for jobs in the oil, energy and construction industries in Houston, according to a recent workforce report conducted by LinkedIn. The report found that Houston’s job growth in the oil and energy sector is more than double the national average at 12.4 percent, and job growth in the construction industry is not far behind. Job growth in Houston has grown steadily for the past several years, but it may have been accelerated further by the increased demand for skilled labor following Hurricane Harvey.

Meanwhile, a report from the Texas Workforce Commission published earlier this month identified promising signs of job growth in Houston as well. Unemployment in the Houston metropolitan area fell to 4.2 percent in May 2018, down from 4.8 percent at the same time last year. The region also experienced its eighth consecutive month of job growth, adding nearly 10,000 jobs in May. This statewide report also found that construction companies throughout Texas have been increasing their payrolls in 2018, adding more than 40,000 jobs over the course of the past year.

You don’t have to look far to spot large-scale construction projects here in Houston. The $1 billion effort to replace the Ship Channel Bridge began earlier this spring, and the city will become home to at least 15 new condominium buildings this year. At Texas Contractors Equipment, we’re proud to support this thriving industry by developing custom ground engaging solutions for the contractors in our area.

To learn more, feel free to give us a call or contact us online today.

Construction Is Underway on the Houston Tollway Bridge

Earlier this month, work began on the $1 billion project to rebuild and replace the aging Ship Channel Bridge on the Sam Houston Tollway. This project, which is expected to take six years to complete, is just one component of a larger effort to widen the tollway so that it will be able to comfortably accommodate more than 150,000 vehicle crossings per day.

The new bridge’s cable-stayed design will not only be aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also expected to be more durable and corrosion-resistant than the current bridge. The bridge will span a total of 1,320 feet across the channel and include four lanes of traffic in each direction. The cable-stayed design will also reduce the number of pylons that are required to support the bridge, making it easier for crews to dredge the ship channel in the future.

The tollway bridge project will take place in three phases. First, the southbound bridge will be built adjacent to the existing bridge. Then, the old bridge will be torn down and the new southbound bridge will temporarily serve traffic in both directions. Finally, the northbound bridge will be constructed in the last phase of the project. The completed bridge will closely resemble the nearby Fred Hartman Bridge on TX-146.

Project completion is tentatively scheduled for 2024. Commuters can expect some rush-hour slowdowns on the bridge over the course of the next six years, but the new bridge and widened roads will ultimately relieve congestion on the Sam Houston Tollway and make it far easier to navigate during periods of heavy traffic.

Check out a few progress photos of the bridge from a recent commute below!

New Life for an Old ESCO Clamshell Bucket

Experience, confidence, knowledge. This is the trust that your manufacturer has in a dealer to help a customer.

One such customer called ESCO Corporation in Portland, Oregon looking for some help on an old clamshell bucket. ESCO suggested the customer call us to lend a hand. The customer had an old 1970 clamshell bucket that needed new teeth and adapters so he could use it to grab stone out of the water for rip rap material. By using the serial number, we determined the original Bolton parts were obsolete.

With the help of our inside customer service rep and the product specialist team, we upgraded him to the newly-introduced Ultralok Weldon clamshell adapters and the recently-released U40K clamshell teeth. These were the best combination to use in the customer’s application.

When the customer picked up his parts he was amazed at the size and weight of the teeth, but we reassured him these were the correct size for his clamshell bucket. We showed him how the adapters should be placed and welded onto the bucket, and explained how the teeth were installed onto the adapters; he was very pleased at the ease of installing them.

After a few weeks we contacted him and he said his crane operator was really impressed with the system. He also mentioned that he could pick up large or small rocks and make more cycle times as he did not lose the rock out of the clamshell. The customer thanked us for helping him out and thanked ESCO for the special value-added Ultralok System.

Check out a few photos of the clamshell bucket in action below!

Houston-Dallas Bullet Train Developers are Making Big Strides

Bullet TrainThe high-speed rail line that is expected to cut the 240-mile trip between Houston and Dallas down to 90 minutes has seen significant progress in recent months thanks to the efforts of its investor-owned railroad company Texas Central. In February, the project passed a major milestone when Texas Central announced that it had negotiated with landowners to purchase close to one-third of the total land required for the route across 10 counties.

If the construction crews break ground on schedule, the bullet train could be up and running by 2023.

“This is a significant step in the progress of the high-speed train and it reflects the positive dialogue we have had with landowners along the route, said Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar in a statement. “Texans see the many benefits of a system that will provide a safe, reliable and productive alternative to the state’s transportation demands.”

In early May, Texas Central also announced that it will partner with Amtrak to connect the high-speed line with regional and national routes that pass through Houston and Dallas as well. This partnership could make the new bullet train a far more valuable transportation option for commuters and tourists in Texas.

“When Texas Central’s high-speed line begins operation, the joint ticketing arrangement will benefit Amtrak customers who currently cannot connect by train between Texas’ two largest markets,” said Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer following the announcement.

If all goes according to plan, Texas will be home to one of the fastest and most efficient high-speed rail lines in the nation within the next five years.

Thoughts and Snapshots From a Trip to Utah

While driving from Texas to Utah I thought I would put down some notes:

Work is good these days and we have been planning the vacation for a while now so I thought I would let you know how we did. We had planned on going to the northern part of the Grand Canyon but it is closed till May 15—guess winter is long up in the higher altitudes—so we ended up in Panguitch, Utah instead.

Speaking of altitudes, if anyone has a good suggestion on how to prevent this altitude sickness we will gladly take the advice. Going from sea level to about 6,800 ft. above sea level means that if I want to walk over to the showers say 50 steps I have to stop and catch my breath, but going through our first national park was so beautiful and I have to share some pics.

Bryce Canyon

One more from Bryce Canyon National Park:

Once we got here we did not stay still—we traveled probably a little more than 1000 miles going through 3 different parks. The one that really got our attention was up at Brian Head where we ran into a snow road closure. Now, being from Texas we don’t see these very often, but we sometimes see floodwater road closures (speaking of which, the City of Houston and surrounding area have really done well in recovering from Hurricane Harvey).

Brian Head

Since then we have broke camp and are heading south to Kanab, Utah. There, we will spend the rest of our time exploring the canyon loops and driving tours.

This blog entry is a little different from our usual subject matter, but we wanted to remind everyone that if you work hard you need to take some time off to relax, recharge, and get to know your country by traveling. Flying is fast, which is good for business trips when time counts, but traveling by road gives us a unique opportunity to see the scenery up close and gain a greater appreciation for everything this country has to offer.

My advice: take some time to explore the country and be proud of it…

Houston Adopts New Building Rules for the City’s Floodplains

Flooding in HoustonMore than six months after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, construction crews are still working hard to aid in Houston’s recovery effort. Now, the Houston City Council has taken its first major regulatory action to prevent major weather events from causing similar devastation in the future.

In early April, the council voted to approve new floodplain regulations following a contentious three-hour debate. The new regulations, which were first proposed by Mayor Sylvester Turner, require homes built in the city’s 100 and 500-year floodplains to be elevated at least two feet above the ground. Current regulations apply only to Houston’s 100-year floodplains, and require homes to be elevated one foot above the ground.

Mayor Turner called the decision a “defining moment” for the city that could save lives and make Houston stronger and more resilient in the event of future flooding events. But despite the Mayor’s praise, some city council members expressed concerns that the new regulations would drive up construction costs and make it harder for homeowners to qualify for flood insurance.  Mayor Turner acknowledged these concerns in his address to the city council, but argued that they were outweighed by the need to take decisive action in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Harris County officials approved similar updates to their floodplain building regulations earlier this year. There, new homes built in neighborhoods that were developed prior to 2009 must also be constructed at least one foot above the ground, regardless of whether or not they’re located in a floodplain.

Houston’s new rules will go into effect on September 1, 2018.

The Weir Group Acquires ESCO Corporation in $1.2 Billion Deal

ESCO CorporationIn one of the largest market acquisitions to hit the construction industry in recent years, the UK-based engineering firm Weir Group PLC has agreed to purchase ESCO Corporation for $1.285 billion. Together, the two companies will offer a unique combination of ground engaging tools and mining equipment to customers across the globe. Their combined workforce will include roughly 18,000 employees in more than 70 different countries.

“With ESCO, we’ll be joined by a world-class team and add another leading global brand,” said Weir Group CEO Jon Stanton in a press release. “Together, Weir Minerals and ESCO will create a unique customer proposition as the premium provider of mission critical surface mining solutions from extraction to concentration, built on proprietary technology, superior life and supported by an unrivaled service network.”

Weir Group PLC It’s worth noting that all of ESCO’s products will continue to be sold under the ESCO brand. ESCO will continue to operate as an independent business under the Weir umbrella throughout 2018, with company integration beginning in 2019. ESCO’s headquarters will also remain in Portland, Oregon. The acquisition is expected to be complete in the third quarter of 2018 barring any unforeseen regulatory hurdles.

At Texas Contractors Equipment, we’ll continue to sell all the same great ESCO products you’ve come to expect from us over the years. From ground engaging tools and attachments to replacement parts for your existing equipment, you can find it all right here.

To learn more about the Weir Group’s acquisition of ESCO Corporation, you can view the complete press release here.

Robots are Helping Construction Crews Beat Their Backlogs

Robotics Engineering

Labor shortages have made it increasingly difficult for construction companies to meet tough deadlines in recent years, but new advances in robotics could allow crews to work faster, safer and more efficiently. Thanks the efforts of America’s robotics engineers, machines are beginning to lend a hand with some of the industry’s dirtiest, most dangerous jobs.@

In a recent article in The Houston Chronicle, the founder of a robotics company based in San Francisco described how his team is developing autonomous bulldozers, excavators and other pieces of heavy equipment that eliminate the need for human operators. Meanwhile, in Colorado, a bricklaying robot called the Semi-Automated Mason (SAM) is helping construction crews by laying about 3,000 bricks in an eight-hour shift. Although some economists have raised concerns about these robots replacing humans in the labor market, others have argued that the machines are simply shifting the demand for people in other positions.

“We need all of the robots we can get, plus all of the workers working, in order to have economic growth,” said Michael Chui of the McKinsey Global Institute in his interview with The Houston Chronicle. “As machines do some of the work that people used to do, the people have to migrate and transition to other forms of work, which means a lot of retraining.”

The construction workers using SAM in Colorado, for example, spent weeks learning the skills they needed to operate and maintain the bricklaying robot. Furthermore, experienced bricklayers are still needed for more complex jobs that automated machines like SAM can’t handle on their own. Rather than replacing these skilled laborers, construction robots are taking care of tedious or otherwise undesirable tasks, thereby allowing humans to put their brains and hands to work elsewhere. These robots could even help construction companies reduce their insurance costs by performing hazardous tasks that are prone to causing workplace injuries.

So keep an eye out – before too long you might spot robots helping out at a construction site near you.