That I-85 collapse: Bolstering demand for Atlanta construction jobs -- but for how long?

The rebuilding of I-85 bolsters one of the fastest-growing sectors of the metro Atlanta economy: construction. 

That effect stands out among many on the local economy. 

There are about 118,500 construction jobs in Atlanta -- the majority of the state’s 184,400 jobs in the sector, as reported last week by the state Department of Labor

Carmen Dixon, 21 of Riverdale, said she was heading home from work in North Druid Hills. She said she could feel the heat as she passed the flames, which you hear her scream about at the end of the footage.

Metro Atlanta construction jobs are up a robust 6.9 percent from a year ago and up more than 30 percent from five years ago.

Construction the past year has surged at nearly twice the pace of overall hiring -- but seemed to have peaked at the start of this year. 

The state jobless rate dipped last month to 5.1 percent. New data for Atlanta is due from the state Department of Labor on Thursday.

Overall, it remains hard to pin down the impact of the March 30 bridge disaster.

There are upsides and -- most obviously -- a lot of downside -- to the collapse, as with anything that costs money and time and changes the behavior of tens of thousands of working people during working hours.  

A fire caused the collapse. Since then, businesses that are close to the area have complained of inconvenience and losing customers. Commuters complained of longer travel times-- or chose to change work schedules.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been affected every day.
Meanwhile, contractor C.W. Matthews is rebuilding 350 feet of northbound and 350 feet of southbound lanes on I-85. 

What’s the post-I-85 future for workers?

The collapse does come as several huge-bore projects are ending, (i.e. SunTrust Park for the Braves in Cobb County and the new Mercedes Benz football stadium downtown). That is probably why you have already seen a flattening and weakness in construction jobs in the metro region.  

Job growth in construction had soared. Lately, not so much. And the end of those projects means many skilled and unskilled workers are looking for their next assignment. 

Anything that adds construction projects is good for those workers -- even if they are not directly involved in rebuilding that portion of I-85. 

To the extent that the money is being spent when it wouldn’t have been spent, it’s good for the economy. It is money that hadn’t been poured into jobs and  purchases that will now be poured in. 

At least if the purchases are local.

April 7, 2017 -- Crews continue working at the site where an elevated portion of I-85  collapsed in Atlanta on March 30. 
Photo: Henry P. Taylor/AJC

So even if it affects many tens of thousands of commuters, it is probably not a huge impact on hiring, but it is somewhat concentrated: one place, one small slice of the workforce. And it does come to construction as demand has been easing up.

For productivity and for growth, etc., the impact is probably a relatively narrow one, not like a snowstorm that affects everyone. On the other hand, a snowstorm’s effect melts with the Georgia sun in hours or a day. This looks to be a longer impact. 

The Georgia Department of Transportation has set a target completion date of June 15, but has provided financial incentives for the company to finish by May 21 or May 25.

It could actually be positive – if people get more efficient about working remotely, if Atlanta becomes more efficient about travel and use of time, if businesses can be smart. 

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