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January 28, 2013
Transportation is high on Butch Brooks’ list of priorities as he takes over as 2013 president of the Associated General Contractors of Washington. Brooks was to be installed last Friday at his new post.
“First, it’s an honor to serve our organization,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting started.”
Brooks said infrastructure throughout the state is on the verge of collapse and the AGC plans to provide information to politicians so that they can put together a transportation package. He said it will take $3 billion over the next few years just to keep statewide roads in good repair.
The road maintenance shortfall stems from a limited share of the 37.5-cent state gas tax. About 8 cents of the tax is left for WSDOT operations after 11 cents is distributed to local municipalities and 18.5 cents pays off bond debt related to capital projects such as the new $4.1 billion state Route 520 floating bridge and $3.1 billion Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement.
Those 8 cents have to cover administration, daily operations and maintenance performed by state workers, leaving little if any funding for contractor-provided work, Brooks said.
The city of Auburn recently lowered speed limits on several major roads around town because it has no money to fix them, according to Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis. Over the past few years other municipalities around the country have also lowered speed limits in an effort to preserve deteriorating roads and increase safety, Lewis said.
“The longer we put those things off, the more expensive they will be,” Brooks said.
There will be two benefits if a transportation package is put together, according to Brooks. The first will be better roads and the second will be jobs for an industry hit hard by the Great Recession.
Local construction employment appears to be improving. Brooks said 6,500 new construction jobs were added in the Seattle metro area over the year ending on October 2012. That’s second best in the country, but a long way to go in recovering the nearly 30,000 local construction jobs that were lost since October 2007.
”If there aren’t jobs for people, contractors aren’t making any money,” he said.
Another thing that concerns Brooks about the construction industry is government regulation. “It seems government comes up with a solution to fix things that aren’t broken on a regular basis,” he said.
Other priorities of the AGC this year are job site safety, workforce development and labor relations.
Brooks grew up in the Gig Harbor area and was exposed to construction at an early age through his father, who worked in that industry. Brooks took small-business classes at Olympic Community College and later got a job at Active Construction in Gig Harbor.
He joined Woodworth & Co. in 1986 as a project manager and worked his way up to president in 2009. The owners of Woodworth decided to sell the firm in late 2009 to Miles Resources and Brooks stayed on until last summer to help with the transition.
One of Brooks’ favorite projects he worked on was the road surface for the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge. It used different types of asphalt to create a more pliable and flexible surface a technology not previously used in Washington, he said. “It was an extreme challenge.”
Brooks said the Narrows Bridge surface is not a good option for roads because it’s expensive.
Three months ago he started Brooks Construction Management, which specializes in construction management, pre-construction and value-engineering consulting. Because he is not as busy as he used to be, Brooks said he will have more time to be an active AGC president.
That’s not to say Brooks hasn’t been active in the past at the AGC: He served on the board twice, as well as several committees and councils, and in 2005 was named Contractor of the Year.
Outside of the AGC, he has been on the Pierce County Regional Council, Fife City Council, and served as pro-tem Mayor in Fife.
Brooks also coached girls’ fast-pitch softball teams, which provided a way to let off steam and interact with his daughters.
“If you can coach girls from the age of 8 to the age of 18 you can do anything,” he said.