Coming together on our crumbling infrastructure

By |  May 24, 2019

A number of topics were covered during the 2019 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference, including the lack of development on the federal highway funding front.


Some aggregate industry leaders see a potential end to the journey of securing adequate infrastructure funding. Photo iStock.com/undefined

Some aggregate industry leaders see a potential end to the journey of securing adequate infrastructure funding. Photo iStock.com/undefined

P&Q: We’re now two years into the Trump administration, and we have not yet seen any major legislation pass on surface transportation infrastructure. With Congress now divided along party lines, have the odds improved or worsened for passage of a signature federal infrastructure bill? Do you expect a federal infrastructure bill to be passed in 2019? How is your state or region situated in terms of funding for 2019 and the years to come? Is your state providing enough funding for infrastructure to offset funding that should otherwise be coming from the federal government?

Headshot: Stewart Petrovits, Route 82 sand & Gravel

Petrovits

Stewart Petrovits (Route 82 Sand & Gravel): I’m from New York. As far as the state goes, it just robs from infrastructure to pay for anything else it wants. And then whatever is left over when an election year rolls around, they’ll throw out some cheap mill and fill, some overlays – you know, six and a half millimeter, basically the bare minimum they can do.

Or, they build a $7 billion bridge that robs from the whole. ‘Well, we’re spending $7 billion in your region, yes, [but] $6.5 billion of it is going into one structure. And 20 other counties are sharing the remaining $500 million.’

We don’t do a lot of state work, so I almost could care less. But they rob the highway fund whenever possible, and we won’t see a big push for highway projects state-wise until the next election comes down the pike. That’s just how it is. If it doesn’t benefit Manhattan or the five boroughs, you’re kind of on your own.

Pat Jacomet (Ohio Aggregates & Industrial Minerals Association): In Ohio, ODOT (Ohio Department of Transportation) project funding [is expected] to drop off significantly in 2020. So we have formed an infrastructure workgroup within our association that put together a policy on what we would like to see with funding.

Additionally, there’s a broad coalition called Fix Our Roads Ohio. It includes contractors, pavers, municipalities, county engineers – several dozen entities trying to coalesce around one idea that we can push to this.

We’ve got a new administration, new governor, new lieutenant governor. The governor has indicated he was going to put together a blue ribbon task force to look at funding. Not only do we see that as a challenge, but even if we do get the federal funding, the states have to match that.

The 28 or so states that have already taken action are sitting pretty. But we don’t have anything to match that federal money with right now. So it’s a priority for us within the association to push for additional funding at the state level.

According to Darren Kirby of KPI-JCI & Astec Mobile Screens, the “Don’t Let America Dead End” initiative has been successfully engaging the industry to reach out to Congress on the infrastructure issue. Photo courtesy of PamElla Lee Photography.

According to Darren Kirby of KPI-JCI & Astec Mobile Screens, the “Don’t Let America Dead End” initiative has been successfully engaging the industry to reach out to Congress on the infrastructure issue. Photo courtesy of PamElla Lee Photography.

Darren Kirby (KPI-JCI & Astec Mobile Screens): We’re part of the Astec family. One of the initiatives that Astec does as a group is a website (dontletamericadeadend.us) that we co-created allowing anybody to get involved in driving home the message for this highway bill. You can easily go onto the website. You generate a letter. It’s a form letter to your local representation, so it’s a very quick punch list. The website sends it out to increase awareness about what we’ve got coming up.

It’s a pretty positive website. It’s very simple, very user-friendly. As sales guys, we push it through our distribution and dealer networks. We like to get it out any way we can. It’s something we’ve done to raise awareness in [Washington], D.C.


The following transcript was edited from a concurrent Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference discussion.


Headshot: Rick Madara, McLanahan

Madara

Rick Madara (Mclanahan Corp.): The way things are going, we are not going to get anything our current president wants because of who he is. That’s a frustration I think we are all facing.

George Reddin (FMI Capital Advisors): The states – over 30 of them since 2012 or 2013 – have come up with their own programs. They got fed up with this dysfunction at the federal level. You need both.

We are seeing a significant amount of activity at the municipal level in township and city levels, as well, but you need the federal money. I think there’s some momentum out there for it.

With the [2018] midterm election result, we have a better chance than we did last time. The big hurdle is going to be this: You can’t have a bill with 20 percent of it from the federal level when we are accustomed to 80 percent of it coming from the federal level.

Tripp Hammett (Hammett Gravel Co.): I live in Jackson, Mississippi. Go there and you will see how bad the roads are. They are notorious for being horrific. It’s been an ongoing issue for a long time.

One of my daughters goes to Jackson Academy. I live right by there, and a long story short, [a] girl was getting ready to graduate last year. She hit a pothole about two days before graduation and it killed her. When do you get past something like that? How do you not get funding when that happens?
And it’s not just happening there. Dig deep enough, and those kinds of things are happening all over because of our infrastructure problem.

Yeah, Trump is Trump. But we need to fix our roads. If that was my daughter, I might not [stop] beating the door down until it happens.

Says John Garrison, a Michigan resident with Superior Industries: “We have pothole fatalities and, literally, chunks of bridges falling off and hitting cars. It’s alarming that we can let our country fall apart the way we have.” Photo courtesy of PamElla Lee Photography.

Says John Garrison, a Michigan resident with Superior Industries: “We have pothole fatalities and, literally, chunks of bridges falling off and hitting cars. It’s alarming that we can let our country fall apart the way we have.” Photo courtesy of PamElla Lee Photography.

John Garrison (Superior Industries): I have been to Washington a few times, and it is intriguing to sit down with congressmen, senators or their staff. Everybody always agrees that [funding highways] is the right thing to do.

Everybody always says, ‘I am for it.’ But it just doesn’t move forward.

It’s important for us as an industry to make sure we voice that. If you have a lot of employees, encourage them to write letters or advocate for [highway funding].

I live in Michigan. A recent survey shows that Michigan was No. 50 for roads and infrastructure. We are down at the bottom of the list. We have pothole fatalities and, literally, chunks of bridges falling off and hitting cars. It’s alarming that we can let our country fall apart the way we have over many years.

Some states have done a great job of keeping up their roads, but Michigan doesn’t have the money to do it. And it sounds like Mississippi doesn’t either.

Michael Johnson (National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association): Without a good federal bill, the states have to come up with the money. It is not going to work.

Andy Blanchard (Syntron Material Handling): It was very eye-opening to go to Capitol Hill [for the NSSGA Legislative & Policy Forum] and sit with senators, congressmen or their aides. Our group was told that Congress can only handle so much on their plate at any one time, and infrastructure is not going to happen in 2018. The best chance we have – or the next best chance – is 2019. That’s what we heard consistently from seven or eight people we met with.

Johnson: How many people have met members of Congress? Or know any members of Congress in areas in which you operate? Have you been able to see them? Have you been talking about the importance of this to your company and to your community? That’s step one. If we don’t continue to push this, nobody else will.

While some smirk at Domino’s “Paving for Pizza” campaign, Memphis Stone & Gravel’s Hal Williford points out that the national company is shedding light on a problem that’s dear to the aggregate industry. Photo courtesy of Domino’s Pizza.

While some smirk at Domino’s “Paving for Pizza” campaign, Memphis Stone & Gravel’s Hal Williford points out that the national company is shedding light on a problem that’s dear to the aggregate industry. Photo courtesy of Domino’s Pizza.

At times I hear from people that it feels like a grind to come back to [Washington], D.C., over and over again and have those conversations. But folks, that’s the way it happens. I have been doing trade association work now for 25 years and I’ve been in Washington, D.C. [for] almost 30. I can tell you when I was in the Senate office I worked in, the folks who came in year after year after year to see us on issues were the ones who eventually got [issues] resolved.

Infrastructure is one we’ve got to do – and we’ve got to do it soon. We are falling behind the world. [For] every dollar you put in infrastructure, there is a collateral multiplier effect for GDP. [This] is the case we must continue to make. Not just because of potholes or concrete falling off bridges, but because if we are not talking about it, nobody else will. We are making a difference.

2019 is the best opportunity to get it done. The FAST Act authorization expires in 2020, and 2020 is a presidential election year. So all bets are off after August of this year. We have a very narrow window, but a real promising window.

And, I’ll say it again, the dysfunction of Washington today helps us tomorrow. They are going to need to show that they can walk and chew gum at the same time, before they can go out and ask to get reelected.

Hal Williford (Memphis Stone & Gravel Co.): I agree with Mike in the fact that we are moving the needle. But I also think our industry is getting some help from social media.

The soccer moms are finally starting to voice opinions, and we need to retweet and [utilize social media] to reach as many people as possible.

One of the greatest things that happened is the pizza company (Domino’s Pizza) that came out with the ad that they are fixing potholes so they can deliver pizzas. We smile and grin about that, but that’s the kind of awareness that needs to be out there.


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