Both Colorado and New Mexico are slated to receive a combined $9 million in federal funding for three rail infrastructure projects.
The Federal Railroad Administration, operating under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is awarding $1.9 million in grant support for the construction of a railroad bridge spanning the Animas River in Colorado.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad project will be built adjacent to an existing structure as part of a gauge rail line connecting the cities of Durango and Silverton.
Just over $5.6 million in funding is going to an improvement project for Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line between the town of Lamy in northern New Mexico and Albuquerque. That project will include the replacement of existing rails, the rebuilding of three grade crossings, along with the timber decks of two railroad bridges.
A second New Mexico project is seeing $1.3 million to complete the preliminary engineering for an overpass grade-separation project in Santa Teresa.
Completion of that overpass, which is used by the Union Pacific Railroad, is expected to improve the line’s efficiency while also reducing the likelihood of rail-vehicle accidents.
Altogether, the Federal Railroad Administration is awarding just over $320 million for rail infrastructure projects nationally.
In a statement, Elaine Chao, Department of Transportation Secretary, said the new funding will “upgrade U.S. rail infrastructure and enhance rail safety in communities across America.”
By Garry Boulard
The Las Cruces City Council has voted to approve an agreement with a non-profit that will lead to the construction of a long-desired children’s museum.
Some $750,000 in capital outlay funding to plan, design, and build the new museum was approved by last year by the New Mexico State Legislature.
The non-profit is called Ngage New Mexico, a Las Cruces-based group that works to advance educational success for students.
As envisioned, the new museum, while built to appeal to all children, will nevertheless center its efforts on displays and exhibitions for the very youngest children up to the ages of 5 and 6.
Ngage has already been extensively involved with both the City of Las Cruces and Dona Ana County, helping to present museum-ready exhibits at various public events, and launching an effort for a mobile children’s museum.
Ngage’s partnership with the city will be done in conjunction with the group’s educational initiative known as the Success Partnership.
It is thought that the total construction of the museum will end up costing more than the approved $750,000, requiring an additional capital outlay or funding from other sources down the road.
According to city documents, Ngage, as part of the council-approved agreement, will act as an advisor and assist Las Cruces in “planning, designing, and building the children’s museum.”
The council votes comes after several years of study regarding the potential for a children’s museum in Las Cruces, with a committee made up of various member of the community visiting similar facilities in Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Tucson to get ideas.
In a column for the Las Cruces Sun News, Michael Radtke, Ngage’s lead museum coordinator, said, “The vision for this museum is to reflect the multicultural nature of our county and represent every facet of our diverse population.”
By Garry Boulard
The City of Denver has issued a Request for Qualifications for the design of a long-anticipated recreation center on the southwest side of the city.
According to city documents, the 40,000 square foot Westwood Recreation Center will go up at a just under 3-acre site located at 4320 Morrison Road.
The center, designed to service the residents of the city’s mostly Hispanic and working class Westwood neighborhood, will include a gymnasium and fitness center, as well as indoor aquatics facilities and space for cardio activities and weights.
The facility will additionally house offices, several community meeting rooms, dressing rooms, and a full service kitchen.
Forecast to cost $37 million, construction of the center will be paid for out of the $937 million Elevate Denver general obligation bonds approved by city voters in 2017.
Last summer, Denver purchased the needed land for the project at a cost of $5.4 million.
At that time Mayor Michael Hancock characterized the purchase as delivering on a “promise we made to the Westwood residents with the Elevate Denver bonds to provide a new state-of-the-art recreation center right in the heart of their community.”
The design and community input process for the project will continue into next year, with construction expected to begin in 2022.
Submission deadline for the RFQ is October 8.
By Garry Boulard
The Department of Labor is considering a rule change designed to clarify the status of independent contractors under the existing Fair Labor Standards Act.
In a statement, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said that once the new rule becomes reality it will not only make it easier to identify employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards legislation, but will support “the freedom and entrepreneurialism associated with being an independent contractor.”
Independent contractors, long a presence in the construction industry as well as many other traditional businesses, make up anywhere from 7 to 10% of the country’s workforce, a percentage that work experts say has increased with the advent of what are known as “gig economy” jobs such as personal shoppers, food delivery drivers, and Uber and Lyft drivers.
The Labor Department’s rule change determination will center on what is called an “economic reality test” in gauging whether a given independent contractor is dependent on the company he or she is doing work for.
A second factor will focus on how much profit or loss control the contractor actually has.
If the proposed rule is finalized, it will mean that such contractors could be protected by wage and hour laws as defined under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The matter is one that is sometimes thorny, say employment experts.
In a statement, Scalia maintained that the rule change will not be aimed towards “classifying independent contractors as employees. In part, that’s because we recognize there are powerful reasons why some workers would prefer to be independent, rather than accountable to a company as its employee.”
The new proposed rule change comes with a 30-day public comment period that will end on October 22.
By Garry Boulard
The federal Department of Transportation is awarding $17.4 million in grant funding for the building of what is known as the 35th Avenue Safety Corridor Project in Phoenix.
The money is coming through the department’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grants program.
The 35th Avenue corridor slices north to south through the middle of Phoenix, extending from Interstate 10 to Camelback Road.
It is a heavily used thoroughfare that also connects to the campus of Grand Canyon University.
But, according to city officials, it has never been a safe place for pedestrians, with 7 people killed in pedestrian/car accidents since 2014.
The corridor project will be designed to rebuild nine signalized intersections, expanding and raising medians, installing new LED street lighting, and adding defined pedestrian crosswalks.
The city also plans to build fiber optic cables up and down the 3.2-mile corridor that could be used in the future for bus rapid transit or automated vehicles.
Plans now call for the completion of a series of environmental surveys, with actual construction beginning in the latter part of 2022.
Total cost for the project is estimated at just under $25 million, with additional funding coming from state and local sources.
By Garry Boulard
Work could begin sometime early next year on the construction of a metal composite materials manufacturing plant in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
The Tainan City, Taiwan-based Xxentria Technology Materials Company wants to build a new facility for its operations on a 40-acre site inside the 2,600-acre Westpark Logistics Center business park.
The announcement comes after months of talks between the company and the New Mexico Economic Development Department.
Besides its Santa Teresa plans, Xxentria has said it will also build an additional facility in Chihuahua, Mexico.
That two-project approach, said Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes, speaks to a “greater opportunity to restore manufacturing to the United States and to collaborate with our neighbors and friends in Chihuahua.”
In a statement, Howard Chen, chief executive officer of Xxentria, said, “Establishing manufacturing operations in North America will allow us to better service our valued customers in the United States.”
The company, which began operations in 1994, produces everything from aluminum composite panels to galvanized steel for the international market, and has its U.S. offices in both San Francisco, as well as Kendall Park, New Jersey.
The company’s products have proven to be particularly popular in the U.S. architectural, transportation, and solar industries.
By Garry Boulard
There were just over 334,000 job openings this summer in the construction industry nationally, according to a new report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That number, from BLS’ end of July survey, is roughly 5 percent down from where it stood, at 353,000 openings, in the mid-summer of last year.
The report, officially called the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, more troublingly reveals that total construction job openings from March through June of this year were off by 43% over the same period of time in 2019.
New hires in July at 463,000, meanwhile, represented only a marginal increase of 0.7% over the numbers recorded in July of 2019.
At the same time, layoffs and discharges as a percentage of the total employment picture, increased from 2.2% in July of last year to 2.5%.
Crunching the numbers for all industries, the latest BLS report notes that the “number of job openings increased to 6.6 million on the last business day of July.”
With the job separations and discharge rates decreasing, says the report, the latest changes in the labor market “reflect an ongoing resumption of economic activity that had been curtailed due to the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it.”
The report additionally notes that job openings overall stood at 4.5% in July, significantly higher than the 3.8% recorded in March, during the first month of the Covid-19 outbreak and economic shutdown.
By Garry Boulard
With business booming nationally, the Quik Trip convenience store chain has just purchased a nearly 3-acre site in Gilbert, Arizona, with plans to build a new store there.
The reported purchase price for the property: just under $3.2 million.
That currently vacant site is located at 2366 S. Higley Road, at the busy intersection of Higley and Williams Fields Road, on the southeast side of Gilbert.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma-based corporation, with annual revenues in excess of $11 billion, to date has more than 800 stores in just under a dozen mostly Southern and Western states.
Its presence in Arizona has always been particularly strong with more than one hundred locations, including three that are already up and running in Gilbert.
Launched in 1957, Quik Trip was one of the first national convenience store chains to operate on a 24-hour basis. Its stores have traditionally measured around 4,000 square feet, but in recent years the company has expanded that format to 5,700 square feet, with larger kitchen and coffee shop space.
Earlier this year the company announced plans to build at least 50 new stores in the lucrative metro Denver market.
By Garry Boulard
Plans to build a new College of Nursing on the main Albuquerque campus of the University of New Mexico are expected to take a significant step forward if voters in November approve the statewide General Obligation Bond C.
That bond will provide some $30 million for the construction of a facility that will not only house the school’s nursing program, but also its College of Population Health.
In a statement, Christine Kasper, dean of the school’s College of Nursing, said the anticipated 84,500 square foot structure “will provide the space necessary to increase enrollment and graduate additional nurses.”
Kasper said the new structure will additionally help provide “an interactive education that encourages collaboration and improves patient outcomes for our great state.”
The current College of Nursing building, located at 2502 Marble Avenue, was completed in 1975 at a cost of $3.4 million and, according to UNM officials, has outlived its usefulness.
The College of Population Health is currently located at 2400 Tucker Avenue in the Family Medicine Center, which was built in 1977.
The state-wide $155 million General Obligation Bond C will provide funding for higher education facility construction and upgrading projects across New Mexico.
Altogether, it includes $51.4 million for a variety of facility projects at UNM’s main Albuquerque campus, as well as its branch campuses in Gallup, Los Alamos, Taos, and Valencia.
By Garry Boulard
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has approved legislation designed to promote energy efficiency in government buildings, while also promoting what is known as green infrastructure.
The Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, otherwise known as H.R. 4447, is now on its way to the full House for consideration.
The bill requires that all federal buildings will phase out the use of fossil fuels over the course of the next decade.
In so doing, the legislation hopes to achieve energy consumption levels that are “not less than 30 percent below” the levels established by the International Energy Conservation Code.
Another aspect of the legislation requires the Department of Energy to support the adoption of building codes by states and municipalities, while also providing technical assistance, training, and support for building industry professionals.
In addition, the bill will put additional funding into hydroelectric and advanced geothermal research and development programs.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said he expects quick action on the legislation, noting: “Our climate is changing and we not only need to take dramatic steps to slow the carbon pollution that has driven this climate crisis, but we must also seize the economic opportunities that this challenge presents.”
It is not known, if the legislation passes the House, when it will be taken up in the Senate.
By Garry Boulard
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