Wyoming feeling the pinch
Uncertainty over a six-year highway funding authorization has—at least temporarily—killed a roadbuilding project in Wyoming, the Billings Gazette reported.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation has twice accepted bids to widen, resurface and extend Wyoming Road in Casper and has twice rejected even the lowest bid of $15 million.
“The bottom line was uncertainty with the highway made them take a more conservative approach,” said Sleeter Dover, director of the Wyoming DOT. “This period of indecision has already reached Wyoming.”
The previous six-year authorization bill for federal highway spending, called TEA-21, expired a year ago. Congress has passed several extensions of it to keep the industry from shutting down, but the U.S. House, Senate and White House as of mid-September still could not agree on an overall spending total or exactly how the money should be divided among the states.
“We’ve been very hamstrung,” said Dover. “We can’t lay out a program over time. It really puts a damper on our ability to plan.” The funding uncertainty affects the entire industry from top to bottom.
“We just haven’t been as aggressive as we have been in the past,” said Dover. “The situation creates a lot of uncertainty, which flows down from the department to the construction companies and even to the gravel companies.”
U.S. equipment exports soar
Exports of American-made construction machinery totaled $4.2 billion for the first half of 2004, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), a 19% increase compared with the first half of last year. All major world regions bought more equipment in January-June 2004 than they did for the same period in 2003, with Australia and South America leading the way. The AEM trade group consolidates U.S. Commerce Department data with other sources into a quarterly export trends report for members.
South America took delivery of $500 million worth of construction equipment, a 61% increase over its 2003 first-half purchases. Exports of construction machinery to Central America totaled $386 million, a gain of 16% compared with January-June 2003.
Exports to Australia/Oceania rose 71% to total $395 million for the first half of 2004, and exports of construction equipment bound for Asia totaled $533 million, a 13% increase compared with the first half of 2003. Africa purchased $187 million worth of U.S.-made construction equipment, a gain of 25% over mid-year 2003.
Construction machinery exports to Canada increased 11% for the first six months of 2004 and totaled $1.46 billion. Europe was the only world region not showing a double-digit increase with its purchases of $724 million worth of equipment, a 3% increase compared with the first half of 2003.
The top 10 export destinations for American-produced construction machinery in the first half of 2004 were Canada ($1.46 billion), Australia ($372 million), Mexico ($299 million), Belgium ($173.5 million), Chile ($165 million), Brazil ($127 million), Germany ($126 million), China ($121 million), United Kingdom ($85 million) and South Africa ($80 million).
Globe honors environmental measures on Wilson Bridge
An air bubble curtain to protect fish during pile driving is one of the innovative environmental solutions that led the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s Transportation Development Foundation (ARTBA-TDF) to name the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project for a 2004 Globe Award. The award honors excellence in environmental protection and mitigation by the U.S. transportation construction industry.
Using innovative solutions and management practices that protected and enhanced the natural environment and neighboring communities, the $125 million foundations contract—the first major phase of construction—was completed on time and on budget, in a manner that met and even exceeded stringent permit conditions, the project managers said. The final bridge will consist of twin parallel draw spans over the Potomac River connecting Maryland and Virginia.
“Preserving the natural environment is a goal every day on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project,” said Bob Douglass, Wilson Bridge Project manager for the Maryland State Highway Administration, which shares construction oversight with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The largest challenge the team encountered was protecting fish during water pile driving activities that were necessary to support the bridge foundations in the Potomac River. After learning that driving the large piles with a 64-ton hammer could produce pressure waves in the water that could injure or kill fish, the project quickly devised and implemented a solution, called an air bubble curtain system.
A large-diameter pipe was temporarily placed vertically in the river, and the permanent steel pipe was set inside. A perforated air hose was placed between these two piles on the river bottom, creating a vertical curtain of air bubbles rising to the surface and surrounding the pile. The curtain of bubbles effectively absorbed and reduced the strength of the pressure waves generated by pile driving and allowed fish to swim safely nearby.
This system not only allowed pile driving to be completed on schedule but also provided the project and regulatory agencies with valuable information regarding the protection of fish during construction.
Another sign of the environmental compatibility of the construction project is the successful propagation of generations of bald eagles nesting immediately adjacent to the project. Historically, bald eagles prefer habitats that are relatively untouched and natural. The Wilson Bridge Project created a permanent 84-acre bald eagle sanctuary north of Rosalie Island in Prince George’s County, Md., but one nesting pair over the past several years has built nests that are progressively closer to the construction, in fact just yards from the project and the 200,000 vehicles that travel the Capital Beltway each day.
The project’s efforts to protect the eagles and their habitat are part of an ongoing $65 million in environmental mitigation programs that are being implemented to compensate for unavoidable disturbances to environmental resources in the path of the project.
Other key environmental successes included reducing expected disturbance to surrounding waters and wetlands to only 4.5 out of 15 acres of river bottom permitted to be disturbed.
To prevent hundreds of thousands of gallons of concrete wash water from being discharged into the river, steel catch basins were constructed on all concrete transport barges to hold the water until it could be discharged into a sediment trap on land.
A silt fence was installed on land around the perimeter of the work area to manage potentially dangerous construction runoff.
House passes 8-mo. extension
Just 12 hours before funding for federal highway and transit programs was scheduled to run out on Sept. 30, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to keep things moving for another eight months.
By a vote of 409 to 8, the House approved and sent to the Senate an extension of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) through May 31, 2004. TEA-21, enacted in 1998, was set to expire a year ago but has been extended several times as Congress and the White House wrangled with forging successor legislation.
The Senate was expected to pass the extension bill and send it to the president for his signature later on Sept. 30.
House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Ranking Democrat James Oberstar (D-Minn.) said the extension, though necessary, marked the sad failure of the administration and Congress to get the job done. He said he regretted the fact that another extension was needed.
“We tried. The other body tried. The two parties in the other body tried. They couldn’t come to a meeting of the minds. They couldn’t come to a meeting of the minds with the White House,” Oberstar said in remarks to the House.
The Sept. 23 Bureau of National Affairs “Daily Report For Executives” reported: “Democrats are not the only ones hoping to postpone major action until after the election or until early January in the 109th Congress. Staff for senior House Republicans negotiating the reauthorization said they too believe a second-term President Bush might be more willing to support funding levels closer to the $375 billion the U.S. Department of Transportation said was needed in a report two years ago. And while Republicans generally disagree with Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), one said a Kerry election would, without a doubt, result in a higher overall funding level for the legislation.”
BNA also reported that Oberstar called the current $284 billion guaranteed funding level the “Filene’s Basement” version of highway funding. According to BNA: “Oberstar said that is the best the Congress can do right now. Come Nov. 3, it ‘is the least you’ll do.’”
Despite some members of Congress beginning to discuss a possible extension and speculating about debating the bill next year, Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and House GOP leaders are continuing to push enactment of a multiyear bill before Oct. 8 and are negotiating with all parties to achieve this goal.
Inventor tries to open market for concrete joint innovation
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is scheduled to issue a patent next year to Nikolai Beloreshki for a system he thinks could change the way pavement joints are made. He is hoping contractors and specifiers will be interested in putting his invention into practice.
The key to the joint system is a rigid, reinforced concrete beam with a trapezoidal cross section. The beam is placed longitudinally along the length of the joint and not bonded to the pavement. The joint placement creates several long strips where concrete or asphalt pavement can be placed simultaneously.
The concrete slabs on each side of the beam can expand and contract independently. The sloped side of the beam supports the edge of the concrete slab on each side of the beam. Built-in water stops are embedded in the concrete on each side of the beam and provide near-perfect waterproofing.
One advantage is that the contractor can use a very simple machine to place the concrete because the beam will serve to support the paving machine and set the level for the paver without a stringline. That means a much simpler, less expensive paver can be used.
The beams can be cast in place with something like a curb machine or cast off site and brought in.
Beloreshki, who was born in Bulgaria, has been in the U.S. for eight years. He was recently laid off from a job inspecting concrete and hopes his invention will put him back in the construction field. He is a civil engineer with over 40 years of experience specializing in bridge and road construction work in Bulgaria, Germany, Nigeria and the U.S.