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The Year in Construction
If one was to judge by the headlines in 2004, America was in desperate turmoil during the year as the bloodshed in Iraq continued unabated, ferocious presidential campaigning was pursued relentlessly by candidates seeking the opportunity to steer the nation one way or another and political demonstrations took on proportions last seen in the Vietnam era. But the turmoil did not affect the construction industry much as it continued to build on the strengths of America and contribute to it by moving forward many thousands of projects during the year. Some were big and innovative, some were small and necessary. All had a purpose and all helped cement Americans together as a nation.

Even the political slugfest ended peacefully, as it is supposed to, when winners and losers accepted the decision of the voters, sometimes begrudgingly, but with no poisoning of candidates or bombings.

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2004: The Year in Construction

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    Every year brings its own set of problems and opportunities. In 2004, construction industry firms struggled with rising insurance rates; price escalation for basic com- modities such as steel, cement and lumber; a flood of undocumented workers and the durable devils of accidents and injuries. The industry made ground in dealing with some, lost on others. In the process, it provided work and sometimes inspiration for over 6 million people working in the crafts, professions and technical specialities who make projects come together and function as they are supposed to.

    The industry did make some progress in dealing with the uncertainty and aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In most larger new projects, a higher level of security now is being built in from the outset or, for older structures, added on with greater difficulty and expense. This is especially true for airports, ports, industrial facilities, high-rise buildings and train stations. The coordinated terrorist bombings in March 2004 that killed 192 and wounded more than 1,400 at three Spanish train stations demonstrated again to the world that all nations are potential targets and those that are not alert to the danger or do little about it can suffer drastic consequences.

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    Heated Passions

    The focus on security and the consequences of terrorist attacks on structures had a positive effect on research in 2004. Passionate proponents of fire and building code changes or defenders of existing rules met in the crucible of a federally funded $16-million investigation related to the destruction of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Before taking action, many jurisdictions, designers and code developers are awaiting the release of the report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which will contain recommendations for code changes in its 10,000 pages. It is expected in March 2005, more than five months late. Even without those suggestions, fire now is a front-burner issue for buildings and other structures.

    The industry as a whole had a great year in 2004. Despite bellyaching from some in the industry about the state of a market or two, U.S. construction put in place is on pace to finish the year at an astonishing $1.009 trillion. The engine powering this huge machine is the residential market, which rose 14% from very high levels and accounted for 54% of all U.S. construction. Other markets also rebounded. The big task for the industry in 2005 is do it again, plus some. There are economic uncertainties, but 2004 had them as well.

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