According to recent data, the city of Seattle is using more construction cranes than any other location in the United States. The city’s crane usage — which has grown by 38% over the past year — is so significant that there’s now an actual shortage of cranes and crane operators in the area.
The data represents the significant overhaul that the city is currently experiencing. There’s been a notable increase in the number of new condo buildings, offices, and hotels being built in recent years. In downtown Seattle alone, the number of major buildings under construction is at a 10-year high, having quadrupled over the previous five years. Experts predict this trend won’t be slowing down, either.
That presents a problem for many developers who need access to cranes in order to complete their projects. Crane wait times in Seattle are hovering around the eight-month mark — twice as long as most wait times throughout the United States. Those in the Seattle construction industry stress the importance of planning ahead. If you don’t, you’re likely to lose out. Local companies are already taking reservations for cranes that are needed for projects in the spring.
Lack of availability presents a problem for developers, but the increase in crane use can also be an issue for those who work on construction sites. Given the fact that these projects are often in a highly saturated area downtown and in other hot spots throughout Seattle, construction crews are required to take extra care during operation. OSHA requires employers to conduct hazard assessments under normal circumstances, which can help to determine workplace risks like height hazards, necessary equipment, and risks for foot, head, or eye injury. But these particular work sites need extra attention.
Because construction workers have to do their jobs in such close proximity to other job sites — and therefore, other cranes — the crews have to coordinate and exercise extreme caution to avoid hitting anything or anyone from another crew with their crane’s arms. Not only do they have to deal with close quarters, but project developers actually have to secure air rights over other buildings and coordinate construction with the Federal Aviation Administration to avoid hitting aircraft above.
In all, though these construction woes can create a problem for developers and workers alike, they showcase how the landscape of Seattle is changing — both literally and figuratively. Big businesses like Facebook and Amazon are moving their offices to new developments there. Both current and previous residents can sense the palpable shift.
One crane operator, Matt Haider, grew up in the area and expressed the changes he has seen from high up in the cab of his crane. “Coming down to Seattle now, it’s like a totally different place,” he said. “Driving through downtown with all the high-rises going up, it’s definitely turning into a big-city feel. And it changes every day.”