For the first seven months of 2004, total construction up 10 percent over the same period last year.

NEW YORK - New-construction starts for July climbed 5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $595.1 billion, according to McGraw-Hill Construction. For the first seven months of 2004, total construction on an unadjusted basis came to $342.4 billion, 10 percent higher than the corresponding 2003 period.

"The construction industry continues to be one of the stronger segments of the economy, amidst concerns that the late spring ‘soft patch' may be leading to more extended deceleration," said Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "Right now, commercial building has picked up the pace, and even institutional building and public works are seeing modest improvement after their weak performance earlier in 2004. At the same time, the expected slowdown for single-family housing has yet to materialize."

McGraw-Hill also reported that nonresidential building in July advanced 9 percent to $171.8 billion. A major part, according to the company, was related to the start of the Freedom Tower in New York City's lower Manhattan, with the portion entered as a July construction start estimated at $800 million. If this large project on the former World Trade Center site is excluded from the July construction statistics, nonresidential building was still up 3 percent for the month.

The institutional side of the nonresidential market in July showed a mixed pattern. Increases were reported for public building such as courthouses and detention facilities, up 10 percent with the help of a $144 million courthouse project in Worchester, Mass.

Residential building, at $320.5 billion, advanced 4 percent in July. Both single and multifamily housing showed gains for the month, up 2 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Low mortgage rates continue to support homebuyer demand, according to McGraw-Hill.