Dec. 12, 2002

Acid rock surprise

“We are seeing some impact to the streams but no degradation to the quality of the streams at this time.”

Earthmoving on a new section of I-99 through Bald Eagle Mountain in Centre County, Pa., has halted because of the danger of acid drainage into nearby trout streams.

Acid rock surprise

“We are seeing some impact to the streams but no degradation to the quality of the streams at this time.”

Earthmoving on a new section of I-99 through Bald Eagle Mountain in Centre County, Pa., has halted because of the danger of acid drainage into nearby trout streams.

Excavation uncovered large amounts of sandstone containing pyrite. When pyrite is exposed to air and water, it produces acidic drainage. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) decided to halt construction on that segment to prevent the acidic drainage from running into two nearby high-quality trout streams, Buffalo Run and Bald Eagle Creek.

PennDOT and its contractors on the project implemented a first phase of interim treatment by placing sodium carbonate briquettes in the path of acidic runoff into detention basins. The acidic water is neutralized by the sodium carbonate.

A second phase of interim treatment involves installing water-powered chemical feeders at acid water discharge locations. The chemical treatment elevates pH and precipitates heavy metals. The feeder systems were installed in March.

PennDOT is monitoring the streams and some of the residential wells in the area. “We have not seen any residential impact at this point in time,” Marlaine Fannin, press officer for PennDOT’s District 2, told Roads & Bridges. “We are seeing some impact to the streams but no degradation to the quality of the streams at this time.”

PennDOT’s contractors on the two affected sections of the I-99 construction discovered the pyrite-laden sandstone in 2003 after excavation at a location in Patton Township, Centre County. The contractors are HRI Inc. and Trumbull Corp.

Spokespeople for PennDOT said unearthing so much acid rock would have been difficult or impossible to predict. “I think there’s a shared view here that this formation was very unusual and not anticipated by DEP or us,” Rich Kirkpatrick, PennDOT’s press secretary, told Roads & Bridges.

PennDOT drilled cores to investigate the geology prior to excavation: “We did normal drilling along with what’s known as angle drilling,” said Fannin.

PennDOT and the DEP have enlisted the help of Skelly and Loy, as an environmental consultant, and the state Fish and Boat Commission in developing a permanent solution. The options include slope modification and capping of each waste area with an impervious liner; pressure grouting to form an impermeable barrier; and encapsulating the material as aggregate in concrete somewhere on the project.

The final cost of fixing the environmental hazard depends on which permanent solution is chosen. If the acidic rock needs to be moved, the price tag could reach into the millions of dollars, Fannin said.

Only earthwork has been halted and only in the affected area. Other I-99 work is continuing. The total project is scheduled to be about 28 miles long from the small town of Bald Eagle to I-80 at Bellefonte at a total cost of $700 million. PennDOT is scheduled to present a plan for a permanent solution to the acid rock drainage in early May. Earthwork might resume by the end of May.

A January dip for construction

The value of new construction starts in January settled back 3%, compared with December 2003, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $522.1 billion, according to McGraw-Hill Construction.

“The pattern in January was essentially a continuation of what was present during 2003—a strong performance by housing, but also weaker activity for nonresidential building and public works,” stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. Later in the year, Murray said, the publicly financed parts of the construction industry would likely continue to be “constrained by the difficult conditions facing the federal and state governments.”

Nonbuilding construction fell 16% in January to $79.9 billion. Reduced contracting was reported throughout the public works sector, including a 23% drop for new highway starts and a 49% plunge for bridge construction, compared with a strong December.

“The public works sector occasionally shows volatility on a month-by-month basis, so it’s expected that contracting will rebound in the coming months,” said Murray. “Still, the ongoing debate over the shape of the next multiyear federal transportation bill appears to be having a negative impact in the near term on new highway and bridge projects, given uncertainty over future funding levels.” Compared with January 2003, nonbuilding construction dropped 18% this January.

ARTBA launches grassroots legislative action program

Forty-five percent of all money spent on U.S. transportation improvement comes from the federal government, according to a grassroots legislative action program called “Mobilize!” assembled by the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).

The program is meant to go to transportation construction companies and drive home how much these companies depend on decisions made in Washington, D.C.

The package includes a 10-minute video, an interactive CD-ROM and an instructional booklet.

The materials outline a three-step program for empowering companies and employees: (1) get registered and vote; (2) get informed; and (3) get involved. ARTBA urges people in the transportation construction industry to use ARTBA’s information resources, such as the “Transportation Makes America Work” website (, and get to know their U.S. congressman and senators. Occasionally, ARTBA sends out an Action Alert and asks industry members to contact their legislators.

U.S. exports improve

The market for exports of U.S.-made construction machinery improved 7.44% in 2003 as manufacturers shipped more than $6.84 billion worth of construction equipment worldwide last year, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

The top 10 export destinations for American-made construction machinery in 2003 were Canada ($2.45 billion), Mexico ($492 million), Australia ($451 million), Belgium ($328 million), Chile ($203 million), Brazil ($188 million), Germany ($180.5 million), China ($161 million), South Africa ($150 million) and the U.K. ($147 million).

Wis. contractors indicted

Streu Construction Co., Two Rivers, Wis., and Vinton Construction Co., Manitowoc, Wis., and four executives of the companies were indicted in March by a federal grand jury in Milwaukee, the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter reported.

The charges involved rigging bids and road construction contracts in Wisconsin since 1997. The contracts involved public road, highway, bridge, street and airport construction projects worth more than $100 million. The indictment alleges that the men conspired to divide the contracts among themselves and decide who would submit the lowest bid to win the contract.

Also indicted were Earnest J. “E.J.” Streu, president of Streu Construction; John Streu, secretary-treasurer of Streu Construction; James J. Maples, president of Vinton Construction; and Michael J. Maples, vice president of Vinton Construction.

Missouri chops highway funding

Missouri has cut its highway construction spending nearly in half, leaving room for not much besides routine maintenance, according to the Kansas City Star.

The state spent $280 million on highway construction in the year that ended June 30, but there will be only about $150 million in the current year.

The drop is being blamed on too much borrowing earlier in this decade after the state Legislature authorized up to $2.25 billion in bonds through 2006. The state halted borrowing when it reached $900 million, but now it will cost $75 million per year for the next two decades just to pay off the bond debt.

Adding to the financial pain is the fact that Missouri voters defeated a state transportation tax measure in August 2002. Motorists also are buying less gasoline. And the state’s funding formula has changed. All these factors reduce the state’s revenue for highways. State Sen. John Dolan has reportedly proposed ending the diversion of gasoline tax money to nonhighway accounts.

ARTBA confers Pride Awards

Transportation construction organizations from California to Pennsylvania were recognized at the American Road & Transportation Builders Association Transportation Development Foundation’s (ARTBA-TDF) fifth annual “Pride Awards” luncheon, held Feb. 24 during the association’s Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Established by the ARTBA board of directors in October 1999, the Pride Awards honor “excellence in community relations and public education that enhance the image of the U.S. transportation construction industry.”

The awards competition was co-sponsored this year by Roads & Bridges magazine. An independent panel of public relations professionals and construction industry journalists selected the winners.

State transportation departments, associations and private-sector companies were recognized in the following categories:

  • Community relations: This category recognizes programs and activities that demonstrate positive involvement with the community in which a public agency, firm or association is located.
  • Public-media relations/education: This category recognizes programs and activities that educate the public and opinion leaders about the significant contributions made by the transportation construction industry (or a specific sector of it) to the economy or quality of life.

Community relations winners among state departments of transportation were the Pennsylvania DOT (first place) for the Danville-Riverside Bridge dedication ceremony. After 16 years of planning and consultation with the public and two years of construction, PennDOT wanted the community to be involved in the dedication ceremony opening the Danville-Riverside Bridge over the north branch of the Susquehanna River.

The agency worked with Gannett Fleming to create a 4-ft x 8-ft aerial photo poster of the old and new bridges and with Pennsylvania-based Crayola Crayons to donate hundreds of commemorative crayons that would be used to sign the photo poster. With the help of an Internet website and promotion of the event by the local news media, more than 1,000 local residents participated in the ceremony and signed the poster.

Tied for second place were the Oklahoma DOT for the Webber Falls Memorial dedication event and the Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Department for its Public Involvement Process program.

Among industry associations, first place went to the Ohio Contractors Association (OCA), Columbus, for its community relations programs. OCA and its 10 local chapters provided financial support and pro bono labor and materials to many charitable and community-based projects around the state.

Second place was awarded to the Virginia Road and Transportation Builders Association.

First place among private-sector firms was Wilbur Smith Associates, Columbia, S.C., for its work-zone safety program.

To help reduce the growing number of fatalities in South Carolina roadway construction zones, Wilbur Smith, State Farm Insurance and Families Against Speeding Tragedies worked together to educate young drivers in the Columbia area about the many safety hazards associated with roadway work zones.

Second place was a tie between Railroad Construction Co. Inc., Paterson, N.J., and Stacy and Witbek Inc., Alameda, Calif.

In the public-media relations/education category, the top DOT was the North Carolina DOT, Raleigh, for the NCDOT Safety City. NCDOT and nine other state agencies created a 110-ft x 60-ft “Safety City” at the 2003 North Carolina State Fair to reach out to the community with a unified voice about highway and traffic safety. It included safety-related booths, displays, exhibits and demonstrations.

Second place was the New Mexico DOT, Santa Rosa, for its reconstruction of historic Rte. 66.

Industry associations winning in the public-media relations/education category were the Ohio Contractors Association (first place) for its Ohio transportation funding public relations campaign in 2001 aimed at educating citizens about the need to boost transportation investment to improve the safety and efficiency and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (second place), Milwaukee, for its website ( developed in partnership with the Associated General Contractors of America and the Associated Equipment Distributors to serve as a resource for students, high school counselors and parents about careers in the construction industry.

A third-place award went to the Pennsylvania Highway Information Association, Harrisburg, for its E-motion Newsletter.

Finally, among private-sector firms, Sundt Construction Inc., Phoenix, took first place for the Skyline Design-Build Improvement Project. The project involved completely designing and constructing 2.5 miles of arterial roadway in Tucson’s northern foothills in less then two years and winning the support of local residents who had concerns about the project.

H. W. Lochner, Murray, Utah, took second place for the 12300 South Design-Build Project.

—edited by Allen Zeyher

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