After yet another year of surprising strength, the U.S. construction market appears to be poised for solid growth in 2006.

Despite fears of rising materials costs, housing bubbles and future oil costs, economists at the 2006 McGraw-Hill Construction Forecast, held Oct. 20 in Washington, D.C., are looking forward to a healthy construction market in 2006.

“I am reasonably positive about 2006, but I am a little more cautious about 2007,” said Bob Murray, vice president of economic affairs, McGraw-Hill Construction.

Kermit Baker, chief economist, American Institute of Architects (AIA), Washington, D.C., said the AIA Work-On-the-Boards report, which is based on a monthly survey of architects on their work billed and in backlog, last month registered its highest reading since 1998. Design billings show up two quarters later in construction.

“The region that has separated itself from the pack is the South,” said Baker. “Nationally, architectural firms that focus on commercial and industrial work are cautiously optimistic and expect 6.5 percent growth in 2006.”

A contributing factor fueling the overall optimism is the amount of work the Gulf Coast reconstruction will generate. Norman Koonce, the AIA's executive vice president and CEO, said AIA members are helping architects whose businesses were displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita by donating computers, plotters, fax machines and several hundred thousand dollars.

Patrick Natale, executive director, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Reston, Va., called for more government spending on infrastructure to prevent future disasters. He said the New Orleans' levees failed because of poor construction and maintenance.