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The association noted that the gains were primarily driven by private residential construction (up 4.4%) and public construction (up 2.4%), but that private nonresidential also increased significantly (up 1.7%).

The stimulus is clearly driving one of the biggest increases in construction spending the industry has experienced in a long time, said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the construction trade association. Once you look beyond the stimulus, however, these figures show how uneven and fragile the construction recovery remains.

Simonson noted that the stimulus drove significant increases in a range of public construction categories. For example, compared to March 2010, spending on public drinking water supply facilities jumped 7.9%; public sewage treatment, 3.9%; and highway construction 3.6%. Spending on other public transportation modes was flat for the month but soared 29 percent compared to April 2009. In contrast, public educational construction spending, which received little stimulus support, only edged up 0.4% for the month and was 18% lower than a year earlier.

Assuming the economy continues to expand, privately-funded construction should experience a rebound starting in 2011, Simonson noted. But for now stimulus funding remains the main source of support for nonresidential contractors.