Editor’s note: This story is part of a series on the trends that will shape the industry in 2021. You can find all the articles on our trendline.
With a new year comes a new round of project completions, or at least the meeting of project milestones. From factories to mass timber buildings, the focus in 2021 will encompass a wide variety of construction undertakings as contractors fight to overcome the economic uncertainties brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Here are a few of the projects that Construction Dive editors will be closely watching in 2021:
Tesla Cybertruck factory
In the summer of 2020, electric car and battery manufacturer Tesla started construction on a new $1.1 billion facility outside Austin, Texas, where it will build its new Cybertruck vehicle and also produce electric batteries. The 2,000-acre property, which was previously slated to be the site of a massive, mixed-use project with 12,000 residential units, is located near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and could be complete as early as May.
According to other media reports, drone flyovers have revealed that construction on multiple buildings within the Tesla complex seems to be occurring simultaneously, which differs from the phased approach the company took with its gigafactory project in Nevada.
The Tesla project is part of a wave of businesses relocating to Texas, Austin in particular. A friendly business environment and low taxes paved the way for approximately 30 new business relocations in 2020 alone, according to the Austin Chamber of Commerce. In fact, the steel supplier that Tesla plans to use for the manufacturing of its Cybertruck is also building a new $1.7 billion plant in Sinton, Texas, about 180 miles away.
Central Subway Chinatown Station
The Central Subway project is a 1.7-mile-long downtown extension of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's (SFMTA) Metro T Third Line that is expected to improve transportation between some of the city's densest areas. The Chinatown station, which should be complete late this year, is one of four new stations being built along the extension's route.
The station, which will be named for political activist Rose Pak, won a 2020 International Tunneling and Underground Space Association (ITA) award for its successful engineering and design through an area that is not only historically sensitive but one with narrow streets, several utilities and poor ground conditions. Tutor Perini is the general contractor, with Frontier-Kemper Constructors Inc. providing excavation and support services.
Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline Replacement Project
Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota
Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline runs almost 1,100 miles from Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. The energy giant now wants to replace the 1960s-era pipeline with a $2.9 billion new one that mostly follows along the original route, including 364 miles in the U.S. — 337 miles in Minnesota, 14 miles in Wisconsin and 13 miles in North Dakota. The company maintains that the replacement is necessary to restore maximum operational ability, reduce future maintenance, reduce environmental and other disruptions along the route and to maintain high safety standards.
The Wisconsin segment of the project was completed in 2017, permits have been secured for North Dakota and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a construction permit for the Minnesota portion of the project in late November. However, groups opposed to the project have filed suit in federal court to stop construction alleging that the Army Corps did not consider all environmental issues when it approved a water quality permit.
While at least the Minnesota portion of the Line 3 replacement project will live or die on its own merits, Enbridge is likely looking at the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline project as an example of the worst-case scenario. After years of pressure and legal action by activists, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy canceled the Atlantic Coast project earlier this year.
Slated to include the tallest office building in North America made of cross-laminated timber, which in and of itself provides its own cachet in the design and development world, the T3 Bayside project in Toronto will measure almost 138 feet high when completed this year. The project consists of two buildings, both featuring exposed timber and open floor plates, that will offer flexible office, co-working and event space, as well as ground-floor retail and public space. Developer and owner Hines said each building will also have a LEED-Gold certification.
Hines has six other T3 (timber, transit and technology) buildings in its portfolio — one in Minneapolis, one in Atlanta, one in Denver, two in Australia and another in Toronto. All of them feature mass timber construction, which is considered a sustainable building option when compared to steel and concrete. Rather than generate carbon emissions during the production of steel and concrete, carbon is sequestered in the CLT panels instead.
Purple Line Light Rail
The $5.8 billion, 16-mile light-rail project that aims to connect the Washington, D.C., suburbs of Maryland survived multiple lawsuits intent on stopping construction, but the costs resulting from the related delays and the subsequent withdrawal of lead contractor Fluor finally ground activity to a halt in September.
However, 2021 will likely see major progress on the Purple Line after all. The Maryland Board of Public Works approved a $250 settlement that will be paid to contractors in response to change order claims. Major construction will resume, according to The Baltimore Sun, once the project finds a replacement design-build contractor to replace Fluor. In the meantime, the Maryland DOT and the Maryland Transit Administration will oversee and move forward on some aspects of construction.
Pensacola Bay Bridge
The new year will likely see a continuation of the rush to repair and reopen the recently completed Pensacola Bay Bridge in Pensacola, Florida, after unsecured barges smashed into it during a hurricane this past summer. In its latest update, the Florida DOT said it expects the bridge to open to traffic in March. In December, another barge broke loose, becoming lodged between private docks near the bridge. How the barge escaped its moorings is under investigation.
This year could also see a resolution to the legal disputes over the economic damage the bridge's closure allegedly did to small businesses in the area. As of Dec. 15, approximately 70 businesses had filed suit against general contractor Skanska USA Civil Southeastern but Skanska has asked a federal court to limit its liability in accordance with maritime law.
New York City
A New York Supreme Court judge is expected to either uphold or overturn a lower court's ruling that the developers of the 52-story luxury condo building at 200 Amsterdam in Manhattan must shave 20 stories from the building's height in order to comply with local building codes. Local neighborhood groups were successful in arguing that the city's building department should not have used full and partial tax lots in determining the building's allowable height.
If the judge rules that the building must lose 20 stories, it's possible that other buildings permitted using the same method of determining maximum allowable height will suffer the same fate.
Denver International Airport Great Hall
Denver International Airport took over construction of the $770 million Great Hall project in November 2019 after it scuttled the $1.8 billion public-private partnership with a Ferrovial-led consortium. Disagreements over costs, management and project details led to the airport's decision to terminate the contract for convenience and instead use the services of general contractor Hensel Phelps.
Since then, the airport has issued several construction updates, the latest of which pegs the completion of Phase 1 in late 2021 and the start of Phase 2 this coming summer. The work that will be complete this year includes new airline ticket counters, widening of balconies and upgrades to mechanical, electrical and plumbing infrastructure.