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Op-Ed: Building in Urban Areas is a Continuing Challenge

By: Mike Salsgiver
Executive Director, AGC Oregon-Columbia Chapter

This article was published by the Business Tribune on June 13, 2019.

It’s important to remember that temporary changes to the flow of daily life in a city are there to keep everyone safe

In the construction industry, we are very proud of the buildings, roads, bridges, and parks that we build.

When a tragic event, such as the fatal crane accident that occurred in Seattle happens, it shakes me and my industry to the core. There have been many “What ifs” and “Whys?” since the accident. In the end, our primary objective as safety professionals is the safety of our community as buildings are being built.

If it seems there is a lot of construction in the Portland metro area and Oregon, it’s not your imagination. The Portland metro area saw $5.3 billion in construction starts during 2018. This does not include public highway, road, utility, bridge or park construction. We continue to see many cranes along the skyline. Right now, there are about 30 cranes in the Portland Metro area. Only two other cities in the U.S. have more cranes operating: Seattle with 59 and Los Angles with 44. Road construction has also increased; from 2010 to 2015 the country has built 317,000 lane-miles of new roads. Like much of the rest of the nation, Oregon’s population growth, combined with the need to maintain and modernize our transportation system, led to the passage of a $5.3 billion transportation funding package in 2017.

This level of construction activity is a direct result of Oregon’s continued population growth. Over 47,000 individuals moved to Oregon between 2017 and 2018. While Portland had the highest number of new residents, Bend had the highest impact by percentage to their city’s population, according to Portland State University Population Research Center.

Over the years, Oregon has adopted land use laws that encourage building that is “closer-closer” and “higher-higher.” In urban areas, construction tends to occur on smaller parcels. Many of these jobsites are located on busy, arterial streets that are used for public transportation, commuter vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians. They are also located next to existing buildings and businesses. When these projects are completed, they will house public services, schools, hospitals, hotels, housing, financial services, and other elements of modern urban life.

Construction is a high hazard industry. In almost all cases, urban construction can be completed safely. While contractors work to eliminate hazards, sometimes full hazard elimination cannot be accomplished. In those cases, contractors will work to eliminate public exposure to hazards, and they will provide proper equipment and training to workers with exposure.

There can often be some inconvenience to the public and businesses by closing streets, parking, and sidewalks, but this can be supported by sound safety reasons. And the effects of these closures and changes can be lessened by full coordination between municipal governments and contractors, and through full and active communications efforts with the public and surrounding businesses.

This week during your commute, when the bright orange signs appear indicating a lane closure; the sidewalk is closed, requiring you to walk on the other side of the street; or the orange and white barricade shows up on a side street preventing your favorite short-cut due to a construction closure, please be patient. It’s important to remember that these temporary changes to the flow of daily life in a city are there to keep everyone safe. Knowing why those changes are in place gets everyone — the public and our workers — home safely every night.

Mike Salsgiver is the executive director of the Associated General Contractors, Oregon-Columbia Chapter. He can be reached at 503-685-8305 or by email at:

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