Looking on the bright side, several transportation tax issues got the thumbs up in elections this past November. Voters in Alaska, California and Rhode Island approved new bond issues for transportation improvements, as did voters in various counties in Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Virginia.

Public transit is one transportation mode that showed growth last year, ARTBA reported. The value of construction work on subway and light-rail projects hit $4.3 billion in 2008, up 20 percent from $3.6 billion in 2007. The growth should continue into 2009 and beyond, driven in part by $1.5 billion of contracts awarded late last year for New York's 2nd Avenue subway line, according to Buechner.

Big contract awards in 2008 and 2007 for projects in Colorado, Oregon, Nevada and Utah also should help boost the transit construction market for the next few years.