August 2009 – State & Province News
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
A four-year construction project to improve Interstate 17 north of Phoenix was nearing completion at Aggregates Manager press time. The Arizona Republic reports that $230 million has been spent to add 15 miles of new freeway, 14 new bridges, four new interchanges, and nearly 20 miles of carpool lanes. The project was handled by the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Maricopa Association of Governments, which jointly plan area freeway improvements. Much of the project is being built with money from Proposition 400, a regional sales tax voters approved in 2004. Federal and local dollars also financed the work.
The Interstate 4-Selmon Expressway Connector project near Ybor City could create 14,000 jobs and begin three years earlier than planned thanks to federal stimulus funds. According to The Tampa Tribune, the project is a multi-lane, mile-long elevated segment that could begin as soon as next year. The project’s launch was expected to be delayed until 2014 because of state revenue shortfalls, but the state devised a financing plan that uses $105 million in federal stimulus money. The project is expected to include up to $446.2 million in construction work. A construction contractor will be selected on Sept. 16.
The state’s first construction project using federal stimulus money — a $23.8 million project to relocate security equipment at Kahului Airport — is underway. The Honolulu Advertiser reports that the state is expected to receive $500 million to $950 million in additional federal funds to pump the state’s flagging economy. Most of those funds will pay for highways and bridges, transit systems, clean-water projects, public housing improvements, and affordable housing.
Public hearings on gravel pits — and how far they can be from residences — could be held as early as this month after the McLean County Board opposed a series of changes to rules in its community. According to The Pantagraph, the county board had an hour-long discussion with two board members failing in their attempt to lobby for stricter regulations. The proposed changes are the result of eight months of discussion between boards, residents, and gravel companies following a proposal for a pit near an elementary school that raised concerns about dust, equipment, and respiratory ailments. The proposal calls for at least 1,000 feet between gravel pits and homes and for 2,000 feet between gravel loading areas and homes. It also clarifies issues such as classifying, mining, and quarrying into three categories and clarifies the width and use of buffer areas.
A new Indianapolis city commission has identified hundreds of infrastructure projects that the city hopes to address over the next three decades. Indystar.com reports that the current infrastructure needs total $5 billion in present-day dollars, or about five times the city-county’s annual budget. The majority of the budget is expected to come from property owners in the form of ever-increasing sewer rates with no source identified for the remaining $1.5 billion needed to repair roads, sidewalks, curbs, culverts, and alleys.
The Kentucky House of Representatives recently passed two key bills. House Bill 4, sponsored by House Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation Vice Chairman Rep. Don Pasley allows the creation of the Kentucky Public Transportation Infrastructure Authority to oversee the financing and construction projects of $500 million or more. According to Business First of Louisville, the authority also would oversee mega projects within the state. The second bill, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Thompson, would provide tax incentives, such as small business tax credits, for existing businesses to help them expand.
In late June, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released a map showing available aggregate construction materials for Carlton County and the Fond du Lac Reservation during a Carlton County Board of Commissioner’s meeting. According to the DNR, having locally available, low-cost construction aggregates is fundamental to building and maintaining public infrastructure and private sector development. To view the agency’s digital maps online, visit http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/lands_minerals/aggregate_maps/online_maps/index.html.
State regulators authorized major expansion of a gravel pit next to Glacier National Park, The Associated Press reports. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality amended a permit that allowed operation on 2 acres to cover a total of 24 acres, the edge of which is about 600 feet from the river forming Glacier’s western boundary. A previous lawsuit over mining at the site resulted in a number of restrictions on its operations, including a prohibition on crushing operations during certain times of the year and limitations on how many acres of land can be mined at one time.
Christian Zimmerman, president of Pike Industries, said the company has received 12 stimulus jobs worth a total of $80 million. According to The Telegraph, the extra work allowed him to create or save 250 jobs — a quarter of the company’s work force. “Back in August of last year, we had already been downsizing our organization from 2006, and we were looking at further cuts,” Zimmerman said. “Our state has led the way, I believe, in getting jobs out on the street.” He said stimulus road projects have been particularly speedy in New Hampshire because contractors worked with the state DOT to cut in half the time it takes for a project to get from bid to shovel. The federal stimulus package was estimated to create about 16,000 jobs in the state, but it is unclear how many of those have been documented, the newspaper reports.
In a 3-2 vote, Lincoln County commissioners approved a mining ordinance to govern activities not covered by state and federal regulations. Ruidoso News reports that small scale placer miners and sand and gravel operations essential to road construction in the county are exempt.
In late June, Ohio passed a stimulus mile marker when it received word that transportation projects totaling more than $336 million had been approved by the Federal Highway Administration. The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio must have all $655 million in transportation infrastructure projects approved by March 2010. To help meet the deadline, the state transportation department switched $57 million in requests for money to plan long-term regional projects, including a high-speed rail corridor, to smaller projects that were ready to go. Meanwhile, the state will use other sources of money to pay for the planning projects.
Fewer than four months after receiving $465 million in federal stimulus funds, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments, and county governments have awarded $382 million in construction contracts. According to Tulsa World, no other state transportation department has awarded a greater share of its stimulus funds than Oklahoma’s 82 percent. “About everywhere you go, you’re going to see some activity,” said Gary Ridley, ODOT director. “We certainly haven’t taken a back seat to anybody as far as how far we have progressed.”
Don Laskey, owner of Laskey-Clifton Corp. of Reedsport, said stimulus projects have allowed him to keep workers employed and even add new workers. The Daily Journal of Commerce reports that some of its new projects include a state stimulus job at Bullard’s Beach State Park and highway paving work for the Oregon Department of Transportation. “We started seeing a decline in the number of jobs in 2008, in March or so, and a real increase in the amount of competition for projects,” Laskey said. “That’s still the case today, but we were able to get some asphalt paving projects totaling almost $5 million.” The stimulus projects have allowed Laskey to keep 15 employees who would have otherwise been laid off. He said he plans to hire between seven and 14 new workers.
The Oconee County Council approved a $350,000 contract for a company that conducts drilling and blasting at the county-owned quarry without anyone batting an eye. According to upstatetoday.com, “everyone from county council members to Oconee taxpayers recognize they are getting a bang for their buck.” The operations contributed more than $790,000 to the county’s general fund budget and approximately $1 million to upgrading its bridges and roads. The quarry manager said that once the county’s aggregates needs are met, the rest of its material is sold to residents, local businesses, and out-of-town buyers in other cities and states. The operation is expected to sell half a million tons of rock this year.
Utah workers have been among the luckiest recipients under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Reuters reports. By the end of May, the stimulus plan created or saved more than 21,000 jobs, with nearly 10 percent (2,041) being focused on Utah highway repair. Only four other states in the nation recorded more than 1,000 jobs being created or saved via the stimulus package during the same time period.
Production and sales picked up at Polaris Minerals’ quarry on Vancouver Island after a slow start earlier in the year. According to the Times Colonist, the site resumed regular shifts in mid-May. Last year, the Orca Quarry sold 450,000 metric tons in the second quarter and the company’s president and CEO, Herb Wilson, said it is fairly close to repeating that tonnage during the same period of 2009. “The $64,000 question is where the second half is going,” he said, adding that he believes the economic cycle has hit bottom and the pace of recovery will be “fairly measured, fairly steady” starting mid-year, with improvements next year and beyond. During the first quarter of 2009, the site sold 187,000 metric tons, down from 473,000 during the same period of 2008.