SPANNING THE NEWS

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Article November 28, 2001
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A coalition of industry groups has proposed to Congress an economic stimulus package for the country’s highway infrastructure


A coalition of industry groups has proposed to Congress an economic stimulus package for the country’s highway infrastructure.


The proposal put forward by the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) calls for $5 billion in new federal funding that would be distributed under the provisions of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).


To substantiate their request for more money, the group has put together a survey of state DOTs. With 48 states reporting, Jack Basso, director of management and business development at AASHTO, told ROADS & BRIDGES, the survey found more than 1,900 projects around the country, worth more than $13 billion, that could be obligated (i.e., the projects are ready to start construction) within three to six months if the federal funding were available.


ARTBA’s economists calculated that an extra $5 billion in stimulus could create 100,000 new jobs for the economy.


AGC determined that the transportation construction industry is currently operating at about 75% capacity, meaning that capacity is available immediately to put additional funding to work.


As for the states’ ability to raise money to meet their 20% matching requirement, Basso said he was confident that the states would find a way to take advantage of the federal money offered.


"States have obligated . . . 100% each year for the last several years of everything we’ve given them," said Basso. "I haven’t seen any real match issues.


"If they’re having problems," William Buechner, vice president for economics and research at ARTBA, told ROADS & BRIDGES, "what they’re most likely doing is cutting back on projects that are done just with state funds and no federal money."


One provision of the proposal would waive the requirement for a state to raise matching funds for the first two years after passage. Such a provision also was part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, the predecessor to TEA-21. In the third year, the state would have the choice of either paying cash or reducing its federal aid for the third year.


Another part of the plan would continue the current so-called "tapered match" provision allowing a state to use federal funds at the beginning of a construction project and only toward the end of the project start spending state money.


Although neither house of Congress has a bill to debate, discussions are taking place. At press time, the House of Representatives was voting on an economic stimulus bill that did not include money for transportation infrastructure. The House has focused primarily on tax stimulus provisions. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has talked about a $15 billion stimulus package in infrastructure but has not released details of a concrete plan.


On the Senate side, there seems to be more interest in the transportation sector.


"Senator [Harry] Reid [D-Nev.] and Senator [Max] Baucus [D-Mont.] both have made some pretty public statements about being supportive of a stimulus package for infrastructure," said Basso.


"Where we’re working most intensely is with some members of the Senate," Buechner added. "They—particularly the democratic members, since they’re in the majority in the Senate—are putting together a package. They haven’t finished it. We’re hoping there will be highway investment in it, but it’ll still be another couple weeks before they’re done."




NAPA announces semi-finalists for Sheldon G. Hayes Award


The National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) has announced the semi-finalists for the Sheldon G. Hayes Award for excellence in construction of hot-mix asphalt (HMA) pavement.


The semi-finalists are Fred Carlson Co. Inc., Decorah, Iowa; Mountain Enterprises Inc., Lexington, Ky.; Kokosing Construction Co. Inc., Fredericktown, Ohio; Norris Asphalt Paving Co., Ottumwa, Iowa; Southern Illinois Asphalt Co. Inc./E.T. Simonds Construction Co., Marion, Ill.; and Walsh & Kelly Inc., South Bend, Ind.


The Hayes Award is the most prestigious award in the asphalt pavement industry. The winner is selected through a two-year process. The award recognizes the highest quality highway pavement utilizing more than 50,000 tons of HMA, based on measured pavement performance after one year under traffic. The pavement test results are evaluated by the National Center for Asphalt Technology.




A day for highway safety


The American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO), in association with more than 25 other industry groups, on Oct. 10 observed the first "Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day."


"Each day, 115 Americans lose their lives in car crashes, on average," said AASHTO President E. Dean Carlson. "That’s far too many deaths, especially when you recognize how many of them are preventable."


Larry Emig, an engineer in the Kansas Department of Transportation, which Carlson heads, conceived the idea for the day as a grassroots attempt to raise Americans’ consciousness about their ability to reduce the deaths, injuries and high costs associated with vehicle crashes.


"Our motto for this day is ‘Drive as if your life depends on it,’" said Emig. "We believe individual action can make a real difference in saving lives."


Speaking at the ceremony, Roadway Safety Foundation trustee William D. Fay said "Safety experts agree that 30% of all fatal crashes involve outmoded road designs. America must rededicate itself to making all U.S. roads safer."


Also participating in the ceremony were U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters, National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Dr. Jeffrey Runge, members of Congress and representatives of several transportation, safety and engineering groups, including the American Road & Transportation Builders Association. Together they signed a memorandum of understanding establishing Oct. 10 as a national commemorative day to promote a reduction in roadway crashes and fatalities.


More information about the new highway safety observance is available on a new website (www.brakesonfatalities. org).




August construction figures prove highly variable


August posed somewhat differing views of the construction industry.


On one hand, contracting for new construction progressed at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $468.8 billion in August, according to the F.W. Dodge Division of the McGraw-Hill Co., essentially unchanged from the prior month.


Nonbuilding construction decreased 1% to $103.3 billion, but there was a 26% gain for highways and bridges, boosted by the start of a $500 million bridge project in South Carolina.


During the first eight months of 2001, nonbuilding construction increased 9% over the same period last year.


On the other hand, the value of construction put in place in August totaled $845.5 billion, a 1% decrease from July and a 3% drop from the year’s high in April, according to an Oct. 1 Census Bureau report.


"These figures show that construction, as well as other sectors, had stopped growing even before the tragedies of Sept. 11," said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. "Unfortunately, those events are likely to put a halt to many construction projects until owners can reassess their financial situation. I expect to see a further decline in construction across the board, followed by very limited categories of expansion in the next few months."


Highway construction dropped nearly 10% from July to August.


"I expect that public construction will hold up better than private in the near term, because projects like highways and schools do not require a positive cash flow," Simonson said. "However, declining tax receipts, particularly at the state and local level, are likely to cause many public projects that do not relate to security enhancements to be canceled or deferred."




Gehl decides not to sell


Citing a weakening economy and "inadequate" or "highly conditional" offers, Gehl Co. announced Sept. 26 that it would not sell itself. The West Bend, Wis., company had announced on May 11 that it would consider a sale.


"Given the current state of the economy and the resulting uncertainty, it is clear that a sale of the company now would not be in the best interests of shareholders," William Gehl, chairman, said in a statement.




Concrete additive market sees bright future


U.S. demand for cement and concrete additives is forecast to increase 6.7% annually to $1.2 billion in 2005, according to a study from the Freedonia Group Inc., Cleveland.


Although construction activity is expected to decelerate from the pace set during the second half of the 1990s, the additives market will continue to register healthy advances, according to the report.


The study went on to predict that higher performance requirements for concrete will prompt greater use of additives per ton. Moreover, concrete’s share of the building materials market is expected to grow. Increases in federal highway spending will boost demand for additives in that market.


Fiber additives will continue to record double-digit growth through 2005. Growth will result from more extensive use of synthetic fibers and other fiber products to augment concrete strength, often in lieu of traditional wire mesh and rebar. Fiber additives also are used extensively in highway and street applications, which is the fastest growing market for additives overall.


Chemical additives also will register healthy growth, said the Freedonia study, with the best prospects in higher value specialty products that offer more potent performance-enhancing properties.


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