Brick by brick
Construction industry stays busy during pandemic
The continuing progress on Amazon.com Inc.’s massive East Coast headquarters in Arlington, along with the promise of four new casinos across the state, kept spirits buoyed in Virginia’s construction sector in 2020.
Across the country, construction employment decreased in December 2020 compared with December 2019, but not in Northern Virginia, which saw a gain of 5,300 jobs over the year, a 7% increase. The state as a whole added 10,800 construction jobs in 2020 — the largest number in the country — according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America released in late January.
Commercial construction aside, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s largest-ever infrastructure project — the $3.8 billion expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel — started in fall 2020, with completion set for late 2025. Using a massive, custom-made underwater tunnel-boring machine, the corridor will expand by two tunnels with eight above-water lanes. Approximately 300 managers have been hired for the Hampton Roads Connector Partners-helmed project as well as 1,200 skilled craft employees, including crane operators, carpenters and other labor positions.
Work also began in earnest on the 2.1 million-square-foot, $2.5 billion Amazon HQ2 in 2020, with demolition of a block of warehouses where two towers will be built. In January, the e-tailer released more information about the JBG Smith Properties project, including its unusual Helix building, a spiral-shaped centerpiece that will include native Virginia trees and foliage in a walking path that winds to the top of the 370,000-square-foot structure.
Dominion Energy Inc. filed plans for its $7.8 billion, 2,640-megawatt Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, which would see 180 to 190 wind turbines built off the coast of Virginia Beach by 2026.
And the Interstate 66 widening project is continuing, with work reported to be on pace for a 2022 finish of the $3.7 billion project adding lanes outside the Beltway.
In November 2020, voters in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth overwhelmingly passed referendums allowing casinos to be built in their cities. It may be difficult now to envision people sitting side by side at slot machines, but casino backers are excited about the construction jobs for the resorts and other projects spurred by the introduction of commercial gambling in Virginia.
Green building, following several years of increased interest, also has taken hold. Amazon’s plans include an increase in green space available to the public, and the $2.3 billion GreenCity project under consideration in Henrico County, which has received support from officials, would represent the commonwealth’s first “ecodistrict.” On 204 acres partly owned by the county, the project would include a 17,000-seat arena, 2.3 million square feet of office and retail space, two hotels and 2,400 residential units, all with a sustainable focus. [See story, Page 14.]
Turner Construction Co.’s nearly $660 million expansion of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is set to finish by the third quarter of 2021, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees the project.
Despite overall healthy employment in construction during the pandemic, many in Virginia’s construction field were preparing for a slowdown in the near future. New hotels, offices and retail are simply not in the offing currently, contractors and builders say, and some higher education projects are on hold. But public projects and the expanding tech sector are providing work for the construction industry.
Last fall, the $800 million expansion of the Port of Virginia’s terminals in Hampton Roads was completed, and the dredging of Norfolk Harbor to make it the deepest and widest port on the East Coast is under way. Amazon also is expanding its empire in Virginia with two new facilities expected to be finished this year, including a robotics fulfillment center in Suffolk expected to employ 1,000 people. It will be the largest industrial building in Virginia, with 3.8 million square feet of floor space.
Virginia’s data center boom continues, with expansions across Loudoun County and in eastern Henrico County, where Facebook’s $1 billion data center opened last August, part of a $3.8 billion industry in the county. Microsoft, Google and Amazon are all major players in Northern Virginia’s data center field, and other regions, including Southwest Virginia, are also looking to cash in by offering ready workforces and other incentives.
- Architectural and engineering firms*
- General contractors*
- Commercial real estate firms*
- A sampling of Virginia’s major road projects
*Partial list – full lists available for purchase at VirginiaBusiness.com/lists.