The International Bridge Conference (IBC) kicked off Monday morning in Pittsburgh with a keynote address by Yassmin Gramian, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Transportation.
Pittsburgh attracted the attention of the bridge construction industry in January, when the Fern Hollow Bridge collapsed in the east end of the city. President Biden was scheduled to visit Pittsburgh that same day to speak about the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
Gramian, a Professional Engineer, began her speech by informing the crowd that the investigation into the collapse was still ongoing.
“The bridge collapse has thrown our infrastructure needs into sharp focus,” she said.
Earlier this year, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) released a bridge report that stated 1 in 3 bridges across the country needs to be replaced.
Gramian referenced this statistic and asked the audience: “Does that make you feel safe?”
She urged those attending the IBC to celebrate “the renewed conversation around infrastructure,” but reminded them that there are challenges ahead of the industry as the IIJA is implemented, including protecting the environment, making sure all communities benefit from improved infrastructure, and keeping a focus on the future.
Gramian was followed by Allison Black, ARTBA’s senior vice president and chief economist. Black, who earned a PhD in economics, warned conventiongoers that we are still in the early stages of the “pipeline of funds” from the IIJA.
Black dispelled the notion that inflation is eating up the funds from the IIJA. However, she acknowledged that, like all aspects of society, the bridge construction industry has been hit by inflation. Using a slide, she showed a graph that indicated diesel fuel costs had gone up by 111% from 2021. The cost of asphalt has grown by 77%, prestressed concrete bridge beams by 55%, and mixers, pavers and other related equipment by 16%.
Scot Becker, deputy administrator-regions for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), and Louis Feagans, managing director of asset management and planning at the Indiana Department of Transportation (InDOT), rounded out the keynote addresses at the IBC’s opening session.
Becker highlighted the need for development training programs to address the industry’s labor shortage, while Feagans explained how Indiana bundles its projects based on work type and geography. This strategy helps traffic maintenance.
“It’s also a major time saver for us,” he said.