2020 promises to be a year of interesting developments in the construction industry. Huge projects that have been underway for some time are nearing completion and others are just getting off the ground.
Here, Construction Dive rounds up six of the most newsworthy projects that editors will be watching this year.
Denver International Airport renovation
Officials at Denver International Airport (DEN) are most likely ready for new kinds of headlines in 2020 — ones that underscore progress on the airport's Great Hall Renovation project after a 2019 filled with controversy and a $1.8 billion public-private partnership (P3) that crumbled along the way.
Great Hall Partners (GHP), the P3 consortium led by Spanish company Ferrovial, kicked off the $650 million overhaul of DEN's Jeppesen Terminal in July 2018, after which it was supposed to start a 34-year term as concessionaire. But then, just a little more than a year later, DEN terminated GHP's contract for convenience after disagreements around lower-than-expected-strength concrete that GHP said might pose constructability issues in the terminal; accusations by the consortium of micromanagement yet lack of oversight; as well as a two-year delay and $167 million of change orders submitted by Great Hall. The consortium is also asking for more than $121 million in termination fees.
However, DEN's managers are looking forward, after deciding to ditch the P3 model in favor of more traditional delivery methods and hiring Jacobs Engineering as a consultant. In October, it selected Hensel Phelps as the preferred construction manager and general contractor for Phase 1 and its contract will be presented to the Denver City Council subcommittee for the Business, Arts, Workforce & Aviation for consideration on Feb. 5, according to Shellee Casiello, communications manager at DEN. An executed contract, which DEN hoped to have fully executed by March, will allow the Colorado-based contractor to complete Phase 1 of the Great Hall Project.
The airport will likely have to tap into its contingency to finish the project and make a deal with Great Hall, bringing the potential cost of the terminal renovation to $770 million, not including GHP’s termination fee. DEN is reportedly aiming for a 2024 completion.
However, the goal in 2020, Casiello said, is to get Phase I construction underway again and work toward completion of the following:
- Expansion of the Level 6 ticketing check-in area and construction of new airline ticket counters.
- Widening of the balconies to make room for passengers to access the future Level 6 TSA security checkpoint.
- Upgrade and modernization of the escalators.
- Addition of new restrooms.
- Upgrade of HVAC, lighting and fire alarm systems.
- A refreshing of all finishes.
"We are hoping to know what the future phases will look like for the entire project by late summer this year," Casiello said. "We are excited to get going on the project again."
New York City transit upgrades
New York City's transit system moves nearly 3 billion passengers a year via subway, bus and rail so it's no wonder many of the area's roads, bridges and tunnels are in need of repair. Proposals are on the table this year for projects that will help bring some up to speed.
Like most major public projects, these are generating a good deal of debate among politicians, taxpayer groups and transit advocates.
In 2020, as in the past two years, industry watchers will have their eyes on the $11.3 billion Gateway Tunnel replacement project connecting New York and New Jersey, which cannot move forward without federal government funding. President Donald Trump and the USDOT have so far refused, saying the project is ineligible for federal funding because New York and New Jersey haven’t committed enough state money.
Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a New York City-based urban policy think tank, predicts little to no movement on the Gateway Tunnel this year. "It’s an election year and Trump won’t give New York State a 'win' here so close to November," she said.
In addition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's recent proposal for a $2.1 billion AirTrain from Midtown Manhattan to LaGuardia Airport has attracted controversy, as many transit advocates as well as officials like Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, don’t think it’s the best way to accomplish efficient transit to the airport, preferring bus lanes instead, Gelinas said.
And, Cuomo's plan for expanded service and renovation at Penn Station that would accommodate an additional 175,000 riders a day also has drawn mixed reviews. With no announced cost estimate, the Penn Station proposal would likely run into the billions of dollars, according to Gelinas, who doubts the likelihood that the megaproject will be funded among so many other competing projects.
"It likely shouldn't be one of New York's top priorities," she told Construction Dive.
Foxconn's Wisconsin manufacturing campus
When President Trump, along with Terry Gou, founder of Taiwanese electronics firm Foxconn Technology Group, announced in 2017 that the company would build a $10 billion LED manufacturing plant in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, the news created a lot of excitement about the opportunities construction would bring Wisconsin's way. but it also generated frustration on the part of some who thought the $3 billion of tax incentives promised Foxconn in exchange for hitting permanent job creation benchmarks was a raw deal for taxpayers.
As it turns out, the company has not yet created permanent jobs and therefore has not received any tax breaks.
Meanwhile, there are questions about what the ultimate scope of the project will be, if perhaps $10 billion was an overestimation or whether Foxconn's U.S. plans will change. However, construction, which has seen the completion of major excavation, significant infrastructure and a logistics and multipurpose building thus far, is turning out to be a boon for Wisconsin companies and the state's workforce.
The primary goal of Foxconn, the general contractor joint venture Gilbane Building Co. and Exyte, as well as its partners, Mount Pleasant, Racine County and the state of Wisconsin, is to build a world-class advanced manufacturing campus, the first of its kind in the U.S., said Adam Jelen, senior vice president in Gilbane's Central Midwest Division in Milwaukee.
The manufacturing facility, the size of 14 football fields and also known as the FAB, ended 2019 watertight after a six-month push that saw the foundation, precast work and 8,000 tons of steel completed. Crews are now working on the interior, and the JV plans the first of multiple phased construction turnovers by the end of June. That first turnover includes administration, control center and the first assembly areas. At the same time, construction of a power substation is underway.
Foxconn announced in September that Mortenson would build two additional structures — a smart manufacturing center and a high-performance computing data center. Foxconn and Mortenson said earlier this month that they had awarded $2.3 million of subcontracts for the globe-shaped data center.
In addition to construction, what will also continue through 2020, according to Jelen, is the commitment to boosting the local community through business participation and increased capacity of its workforce. Thus far, more than 90% of workers have been from Wisconsin, as are more than 90% of the contractors, vendors and suppliers, which means that the Gilbane|Exyte JV is exceeding its Wisconsin First goals.
Also, the JV has partnered with local schools and construction industry organizations to train workers, all part of its vision of continuing to create workforce capacity while work on the Foxconn campus continues. For example, in February, the project's training programs will graduate 30 safety professionals, which will fill a need in the local market. As interior work continues on the FAB, the JV and its partners are starting training programs for trades including mechanical workers.
Las Vegas Convention Center people mover
In November, Elon Musk’s tunneling company, The Boring Co., began underground construction for a $52.5 million people mover tram system at the Las Vegas Convention Center, part of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority’s further renovation of the convention center. Prior to the underground work, above ground work on stations had begun.
The project is the first commercial tunneling job for The Boring Co., after the construction of an R&D tunnel in Los Angeles. The 1.5-mile long underground tunnel will reportedly move up to 4,400 passengers per hour through two tunnels. The trip will take just a few minutes, when walking could take a half hour or longer.
In a tweet at the end of last year, Musk said the company’s tunnel will open this year, before the convention center's renovation is complete in 2021, and the tunnel is reportedly already nearing a half-mile in length.
Musk’s startup has more ambitious goals than a people mover tram system, however, including an express system in Chicago, and possibly one underneath the Las Vegas strip.
U.S.-Mexico border wall
President Trump's mission to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was a big story in 2019, and there is no reason to believe that will change in 2020. Construction paid for by 2019 dollars. Of course, it all still hinges on how much funding the administration will be able to secure.
And there's no easy timeline to follow — work on the barrier has been in fits and starts, with lawsuits, disagreements and doubts around where the money will come from, environmental concerns and a private, nonprofit organization starting construction on privately funded pieces of wall on its own.
For now, the president has been the victor, with the U.S. Supreme Court allowing the administration to continue with several wall projects despite injunctions issued by lower courts. At the heart of those disputes is the Pentagon's transfer of military funds to aid in building the wall. The administration diverted a total of $6.1 billion last year — $3.6 billion from military construction projects and $2.5 billion from counternarcotics funds.
This year, since it looks like the Democrats are prepared to only give up $1.4 billion for wall construction, the president said he will take another $7.2 billion from the military's coffers, this time $3.5 billion from anti-drug efforts and $3.7 billion from the construction budget. There most certainly will be legal action intended to stop these efforts as well.
While some local governments and even federal water agencies pushed back on wall projects last year, there are some governmental entities this year that have all but promoted wall construction. Arizona Republican lawmakers are sponsoring a bill that would allow wall construction to move forward on private land without a building permit if the work is carried out by a nonprofit organization, a nod to We Build the Wall, the nonprofit that has completed a section of wall in New Mexico but has been sidelined a few times by building codes.
This week, commissioners in Webb County, Texas, gave U.S. Customs and Border Protection the right to survey the riverbank along less than 100 feet of the Rio Bravo near the border town of Laredo for future wall construction.
As 2020 ramps up, however, the biggest border wall surprise might be how expensive the project could get —about $11 billion for 576 miles of barriers, according to Customs and Border Protection, making it the most expensive wall project in the world.
New Crystal Lagoons projects
Crystal Lagoons' turquoise water features have become a popular amenity for developers around the world, commercial and residential, that want to add a tropical feel to their projects. In fact, the $1 billion Sapphire Bay mixed-use community in Rowlett, Texas, was almost nixed when a previous developer decided to delete the planned Crystal Lagoons lake from the master plan. The city took its case to court, repurchased the land and moved forward with a new developer, which promptly added back the lagoon and broke ground on the feature in November.
Joining North Texas in its enthusiasm for a piece of paradise, albeit landlocked, are developers from Florida to California, who are set to get their own Crystal Lagoons lake this year. This includes, according to the company, the largest Crystal Lagoons feature in the United States, a 34-acre lagoon in Rancho Mirage, California, that will serve as a community gathering point at the 618-acre Section 31 mixed-use development.
Other upcoming Crystal Lagoons projects include:
- Lago Mar, a 2,033-acre, master-planned community near Texas City, Texas
- Esplanade, a 15-acre, mixed-use development in Pittsburgh along the Ohio River
- Avenir, a 2400-acre master-planned community and mixed-use project in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
What many of these developments have in common is that they plan to offer public access to their water features, with Crystal Lagoons as the operator, offering ticketed entry to each Public Access Lagoons (PAL). PALs are situated at the heart of each development, surrounded by dining establishments, beach clubs, shops, movie theaters and concert venues, turning the lagoons, which will have their own attractions like 3D shows and wave parks, into entertainment hubs. Of the projects Crystal Lagoons expects to launch this year, five of them will be PALs.
“2020 will be the year Crystal Lagoons brings PALs to the heart of cities across the U.S.,” the company told Construction Dive, “changing the lives of millions of people by offering a piece of the ocean on their doorsteps.”