February 2008 – AggBeat


February 1, 2008

For daily news updates and Web-exclusive news items, visit the “Industry Breaking News” section

by Tina Grady Barbaccia, Senior Editor

Deficient Bridge Inventory Shows Only Slight Improvement

The I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota focused the nation’s attention on deteriorating bridges, but highway engineers have long been working to reduce the percentage of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges. A new study reveals that despite increased efforts, little progress has been made over the past year. An exclusive survey conducted by Better Roads magazine and sponsored by CONTECH Bridge Solutions Inc., shows that across the nation the percentage of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges improved by just 4 percent during the past year to 24.1 percent. The findings, based on a survey among highway professionals within all 50 state departments of transportation and the District of Columbia, represent the most current data available on bridge conditions.

“The gain is very slight,” warns Ruth Stidger, editor-in-chief of Better Roads, a sister publication to Aggregates Manager. “Our 2007 survey counts 1,682 fewer structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges than in 2006, which means that only 1 percent of the 145,996 bridges classified as substandard a year ago, were improved.”

Since 2004, more than 6,700 bridges have been taken off the substandard count, but even that small progress has come at a price. “Bridge repair and replacement is enormously expensive,” Stidger notes, “and as agencies have spent more of their money on bridges, they have had less to invest in pavement quality and highway capacity improvements.”

Funding represents the greatest challenge for agencies. Just 41 percent of responding agencies feel they will be able to lower the percentage of deficient bridges next year. “The spike in construction materials and diesel fuel has eroded the spending power of our state and local road agencies, and the pace of bridge improvements seems to be slowing,” Stidger adds.

The study provides further insight into the decaying bridge inventory by breaking out structurally deficient bridges from those that are functionally obsolete. Structurally deficient bridges are considered more serious, since they have structural problems that require limiting weight or more frequent inspections. Some must be closed. About 54 percent of the substandard bridges fall into this category, compared to 46 percent, which are functionally obsolete. Functionally obsolete bridges may be in good condition, but don’t meet the needs of current traffic. Responding agencies use a standard sufficiency rating system, developed by the Federal Highway Administration, to rate each bridge. Federal law mandates that all bridges must be inspected every two years.

States with the highest percentage of structurally deficient/functionally obsolete bridges include Rhode Island (53 percent); Hawaii (40 percent); New York (38 percent); West Virginia (37 percent); Massachusetts, Vermont (36 percent); Connecticut (33 percent); Missouri, North Carolina (31 percent); and Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire (30 percent).

States with the lowest percentage of structurally deficient/functionally obsolete bridges include the following: Nevada (4 percent); Arizona (6 percent); Wyoming (12 percent); Minnesota (13 percent); Wisconsin (15 percent); Delaware, Florida (18 percent); and Tennessee (19 percent).

Only four states were able to reduce their deficient bridge population by more than one percentage point during the past year: Kentucky (-2 percent), Michigan (-2 percent), Oklahoma (-2 percent), and Utah (-2 percent).

The complete bridge inventory appeared in the November 2007 issue of Better Roads and is also available at http://betterroads.gcnpublishing.com/content/Issue-Story.45.0.html?&no_cache=1&tx_magissue_pi1[showUid]=967

For a summary of bridge conditions in your state visit: http://obr.gcnpublishing.com/articles/downloads/StateByStateSummary.pdf.

EPA Rule Exempts Mining from Fugitive Dust Emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed rule clarifies the mining industry sectors that are required to include “fugitive emissions” in new source review (NSR) modification assessments, according to a National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) report. The rule, published in the Nov. 13 Federal Register, exempts agricultural and mining operations from considering emissions controls for wind-blown dust, if a facility is subject to NSR, according to the report.

The current proposal attempts to revise a 2002 rule that requires all sources to include fugitive air emissions when determining whether physical or operational modifications to processing plants trigger NSR controls, the NSSGA report says.

In general, the EPA has not defined mining operations as major sources of emissions — the proposed rule clarifies that only facilities the EPA has previously listed as “major” sources under the Clean Air Act need to consider whether their modification or construction activities result in emission increases, the NSSGA report notes. Major sources are facilities that emit more than 100 tons of particulate matter per year. The EPA lists 28 source categories in the rulemaking process. Cement plants are included, but mining operations are exempt.

Legislation for Highway Funding Cleared

Congress enacted a $555 billion spending bill Dec. 19 that encompasses federal highway funding for 2008, and President Bush is expected to sign the legislation into public law, according to a legislative update from the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA).

This bill incorporates 11 of 12 annual appropriations and provides $40.2 billion in highway funding, which is $1.1 billion more than in 2007 and $631 million more than the president’s original request, according to NAPA. This funding level is the amount guaranteed by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act — A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

The transportation segment of the bill includes more than 2,000 earmarks valued at $1.6 billion. However, this legislation does not address the shortfall in revenue that is anticipated in the Highway Trust Fund. This past summer, a $4.2 billion shortfall in revenues was projected as compared to highway funding guaranteed by SAFETEA-LU for 2009, according to NAPA. The next Highway Trust Fund revenues estimate was expected to be released this month.

Modest Growth Forecast for Equipment Sales in 2008

The construction equipment manufacturing industry expects overall U.S. and Canadian business to remain flat through the end of 2007 but rebound in 2008, while sales to worldwide markets should continue strong through 2007 and into the next year, according to the annual forecast of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).

In the latest AEM outlook survey, overall construction equipment demands by year-end 2007 is predicted to decline 1.9 percent in the United States and remain flat in Canada at minus 0.1 percent, while worldwide business is anticipated to increase 9.9 percent.

In 2008, growth is expected in the United States, Canada, and worldwide,

with the biggest gains in global markets — an increase of 2.8 percent for the United States and 2.9 percent for Canada, and growth in worldwide markets of 8.0 percent.

For the full outlook report, including financial tables, go to AEM’s Web site, www.aem.org/News/AEMNews/Details.asp?P=546.

EPA Changes Discharge Rules, Affects Industry

In a final rule published recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created a new National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) categorical exclusion that would allow EPA to reissue water permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) for new sources of pollution without first conducting an environmental analysis, according to a report from the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association.

This change in EPA policy applies to industrial discharges, including aggregates operations, in the five states (Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New Mexico) where EPA issues NPDES permits, as opposed to state-issued permits under delegated authority by EPA, according to the report.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires federal agencies to analyze the effects of proposed activities but also allows categorical exclusions for types of activities that routinely do not have a significant impact on the environment, according to NSSGA. Such actions do not have to undergo an environmental assessment or a more lengthy environmental impact statement. It has been EPA’s practice to conduct NEPA reviews for first-time NPDES permits covering new sources of pollution, according to the report. The new rule became effective Oct. 19.

Mergers & Acquisitions

Cemex announced on Nov. 30 the sale of its operations in Arizona and Florida, as required by the U.S. Department of Justice in association with the Rinker Group acquisition, to CRH plc.  The Florida operations included 26 ready-mix concrete plants and six block plants. The Arizona operations were composed of two quarries and five ready-mix concrete locations. The value of the transaction was approximately $250 million. No other transaction terms or conditions were provided. The transaction culminated after numerous discussions between the two entities regarding a much larger and broader scope of assets that totaled almost $4.5 billion, including Cemex’s concrete pipe business, some of its materials and products operations in certain regions, its cement plants in Wampum and Fairborn, and its gypsum wallboard distribution business in Florida, as well as various assets in Spain, Austria, and Hungary. No rationale was provided as to why the broader transaction discussion did not occur.

On Dec.10, Lafarge agreed to acquire Orascom Construction Industries Cement Group, the Egyptian cement subsidiary of Orascom Construction Industries, for a consideration of approximately $15.0 billion including the assumption of net debt valued at approximately $2.1 billion. This purchase price represents a multiple of 11.6x 2008 Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization (EBITDA) and 10.3x 2009E EBITDA post-synergies. The acquisition will strengthen Lafarge’s global market presence in cement and also provide it with an entry into some higher-growth markets in the Middle East and Mediterranean basin.

—by Bill Watkins, managing director, National City Capital Markets. Watkins is a contributing editor and may be reached at 216-222-7134 or at William.Watkins@NationalCity.com.

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