March 1, 2009
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 offers a much-needed boost to the aggregate industry. Quick-start project requirements should quickly increase demand.
by Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
Behind the Stimulus Package
With money now set to flow from the nearly trillion-dollar economic stimulus package into infrastructure building projects, high-speed rail is a surprise big beneficiary, and one which can affect the legislation’s influence on future infrastructure investment.
“The big winner in transportation” is high-speed rail,” said Dave Bauer, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), in a special call to its members about the final economic stimulus package.
In the final package the House and the Senate agreed to on Feb. 13, high-speed rail was allotted $8 billion of the total $48 billion provided for infrastructure investment. “It’s important to understand where we started from to understand the significant boost,” Bauer said. The House package included nothing for high-speed rail, and the Senate provided $2 billion. The conference package “increased it dramatically” to $8 billion, Bauer pointed out.
“Now that so much has been allocated to high-speed rail from the general fund, we should look at this as positive,” Bauer said. “[We] will design and build the system.”
Congress has been diligently working to find a way to fund a national high-speed rail network, and the $8 billion “will certainly set this in motion,” he said. “The fact that this was addressed now is a good thing. There were communities actively working against including highway investment in this. They wanted to include requirements that couldn’t be used for any capacity-related projects.”
Bauer says the passenger rail investment also may take off some of the pressure when it comes to the reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU, which expires on Sept. 30. “This was going to be a big part of the reauthorization,” Bauer noted.
According to Bauer the stimulus bill’s infrastructure investment is “a dress rehearsal” for our industry. “The eyes of the world are upon us, and we need to perform so we get the most robust reauthorization package possible,” he said.
Dr. Pete Ruane, president and CEO of ARTBA, added: “The real war lies ahead in aviation and with reauthorization. But we’ve learned a lot from battles with the stimulus. We’ve gained critical traction for making a series of recommendations about the reauthorization.”
In the final economic recovery package measure, $27.5 billion is dedicated for highway activities, but there are many sub-allocations as part of the allotment, so the highway and bridge construction market won’t see all of this money for infrastructure investment. For example, $840 million is allocated to administrative and operational set-asides. The remaining $26.6 billion must be apportioned within 21 days to states via a hybrid formula – half the Surface Transportation Program formula and half SAFETEA-LU 2008 highway program formula. Of those funds, nearly $800 million will be set aside for the Transportation Enhancement Program. The remaining total will be split with $18.10 billion (70 percent) under state control and $7.76 billion (30 percent) under local control.
Bauer also pointed out that “one of the cornerstones of the economic recovery package is the ‘use it or lose it’ mentality.” States are required to obligate 50 percent of the highway funds within 120 days or the uncommitted funds will be redistributed to other states. Local funds are exempt from the 120-day short-term deadline, but if they aren’t used within a year, they can be redistributed. Unlike the federal highway program, which requires a 20-percent state match, all funds are up to 100-percent federally matched. States may elect to use their own funds for parts of projects.
Additional funding for highways and bridges also is available through a new $1.5 billion Discretionary Surface Transportation program developed to fund large transportation projects of various modes with costs between $20 million and $300 million. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood may allocate $200 million of these funds for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act credit assistance program.
Even with the injection of infrastructure funds through the stimulus package, America still faces a major deficit in highway funding. The Highway Trust Fund is teetering on empty with money from the general trust fund having been transferred into it late last year to keep it from going in the red.
But if the Safe, Accountable, Efficient Transportation Act – A Legacy for User (SAFETEA-LU) expires on Sept. 30 as it is set to do, America will be facing another uphill battle as the industry fights for the funding it needs to just maintain the current system and hope for additional funding to improve the system.
– by Tina Grady Barbaccia
MSHA targets safety
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) plans to combat the numerous fatalities plaguing the mining industry with its new Safety Target Packages program. According to an MSHA newsletter, a review by the Applied Engineering Division of every mining fatality that occurred since 2000 identified the 10 leading categories for both coal and metal/non-metal mines and found that these categories accounted for 75 percent of all mining fatalities. The safety packages will contain specific hazard awareness information to address the leading causes of fatalities for each specific category. The packages will be mailed to the safety directors of appropriate mining operations throughout 2009 and 2010 to help educate every miner who performs the specific activity within the categories.
MSHA says it believes that through increased awareness and education, the recurring incidents can be eliminated. It also believes that hazard awareness should be a continual focus for all mining operations. The Safety Target Packages will provide hazard awareness information to educate miners as they move from one position to another and as new miners join the work force.
Vulcan facilities receive awards
Vulcan Materials Co.’s Sacramento Aggregates Plant facility received an International Conservation Award from the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) for its contributions to wildlife habitat conservation, according to a WHC press release. The award recognizes voluntary activities by companies that demonstrate excellence in the areas of wildlife habitat enhancement and restoration.
The facility’s 400-acre site includes 236 acres for mining, the 27-acre Laguna Creek Corridor Preserve, and the 137-acre Vernal Pool Preserve (pictured). Habitat enhancement projects include using native plants as part of the site’s landscaping, as well as planting native grasses and wildflowers for ground cover and erosion control. The facility’s Wildlife Team manages constructed vernal pools for a diversity of species, including threatened fairy shrimp and tadpole shrimp. The team also planted native oaks in the Vernal Pool Preserve. The site provides earth science and natural resource management tours to school groups and invites the local community to participate in annual Earth Day celebrations.
The facility has approximately 20 employees; 10 of whom have been actively involved in the various habitat projects throughout the site. The employees won the Rookie of the Year award, which goes to one newly certified program each year and exemplifies a superior wildlife habitat program.
Vulcan’s Maryville facility won a national award for community relations, according to The Daily Times. The award, presented by the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, recognizes facilities whose “community involvement and support activities have enhanced the public’s perception of the aggregates industry in general and the public image of the individual producer’s aggregate operation in particular.”
“Being active in the community, supporting good causes, and doing our part is important to us,” said Stan Bass, president of Vulcan’s Midsouth Division, in a press release. “It’s nice to be recognized for it, but that is not why we do it.”
Specific areas noted in the award were community participation, donations and services, education about business and industry through open houses at the facility, and an aesthetically pleasing entrance to the facility.
Volvo to reward safety
Volvo Trucks North America has stepped forward with a “put your money where your mouth is” initiative. According to a company press release, Volvo will award $25,000 to two fleets with the best driving records for 2008. The award is intended to help fund additional safety activities for the winning fleets.
“Safety is Volvo Trucks’ bedrock value,” said Scott Kress, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “It has been our number one priority since the very founding of Volvo more than 80 years ago, and it guides virtually all product decisions we make. Many of our customers share this passion and invest their time and resources to achieve safe operations in their fleet. The Volvo Trucks Safety Award is a way to recognize fleets with truly superior safety programs and records, and to encourage others to emulate them.”
The Volvo Trucks Safety Award is open to all U.S. and Canadian fleets operating at least five Class 8 units. Fleets will be ranked by their accident frequency rates and on their accident prevention activities. The deadline for entry is June 30, 2009. Winners will be announced in the fall.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has formally withdrawn its Drug & Alcohol rule proposal after receiving criticism from the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA), stakeholders, and organized labor, according to an NSSGA update.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has extended the effective date of the Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) final rule by 60 days. According to a press release from the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, the amendments will now become effective on April 4, 2009. In addition, the EPA is providing a 30-day public comment period for the final rule. The agency is also reviewing the dates by which owners or operators of facilities must prepare or amend their SPCC plans, and implement the plans.
The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has begun a review of its regulations governing the use of explosives and is expected to develop a new rule. According to a statement from the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, MSHA will look at the issue of explosives from the standpoint of storage, transportation, and technology. It is believed that, eventually, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will become involved in the process.
Luck Stone Corp. celebrated its 85th birthday in November 2008. It has remained family owned and operated the entire time, being led by three generations of the Luck family, and is now the largest privately-owned and family-operated aggregates supplier in the United States.
Martin Marietta Materials was named to Fortune Magazine’s 2008 list of America’s Most Admired Companies, finishing first among companies in its industry category. This marks the fourth time the company has been recognized by the magazine.
The National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association’s booklet, Guiding Principles for Sustainability, won a Gold Award from Association TRENDS magazine in the category of an association publication. The 22-page booklet highlighted the association’s activities and the industry’s contributions to sustainability.
Vulcan Materials Co., Western Division, received national recognition for environmental excellence and stewardship by the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association. The awards program recognizes aggregates operations throughout the United States and Canada for extraordinary commitment to safety, for superior performance as environmental stewards, and for community involvement and support activities.
The National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) named Winfred “David” Brooks of Titan Virginia Ready Mix LLC as the 13th Annual NRMCA Mixer Truck Driver of the Year. Brooks was honored for his career achievements, safety record (accident free for 45 years), professionalism, driving competency, and customer service skills.
Knife River Corp. employees recently marked 10 years of safety performance improvements, reaching overall recordable incident rates and lost-time accident rates below the construction industry average, the company reported in a press release. Its 2008 recordable-incident rate was 2.74, down 17 percent from 2007 and 52 percent lower than the national industry average; its lost-time accident rate was 0.60, 6 percent lower than 2007 and 72 percent below the industry average.