Ed Talks: Aggregates Exec Discusses How Waning Infrastructure & Underfunding Hurt America
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), in its just-released America’s Infrastructure Report Card 2021, shows a funding gap of $1.2 trillion for surface transportation. That number is for cumulative investment needs by system based on current trends, extended to 2029. And, unfortunately, America is already losing on this front to other nations, including China and Russia, says Johnson.
“Transportation funding needs to be sustainable. Number one, it needs to be user-based, whether it’s a VMT [Vehicle Miles Travelled] or gas tax or a tax on tires or a tax on batteries or a tax on freight. … It shouldn’t rely upon general fund money. If it’s user-fee-based then transportation departments can do long-term planning,” offers Johnson. “Granite Construction or another company that buys asphalt plants or aggregate plants or rolling stock, we have to depreciate that over five, seven, 10, 15, 20 years. It’s tough to make a commitment to a lot of capital if you don’t see the commitment down the road for the opportunity to use that capital to get the return on the investment. The U.S. has fallen drastically behind in maintaining and upgrading our infrastructure.”
The aggregates industry is constantly evolving. Early this year Granite opened its Solari Aggregate Plant in Arvin, Calif., which was an infill undertaking. There, a new wash plant creates concrete aggregates while minimizing the demand for fresh water. In the fall of 2020, Granite opened its Big Rock Aggregate and Asphalt Plant in Llano, Calif. The plant recycles 134,000 gallons of water per hour and optimizes the use of reclaimed asphalt pavement and warm-mix asphalt, both of which conserve raw materials and energy, cut emissions and improve conditions for workers.
Associations and companies that work in surface transportation have been pioneers in recycling, reclamation and establishing better and safer practices as well as building regional relationships. Granite, for example, received two 2020 NSSGA Environmental Excellence awards and one NSSGA Community Relations award.
ATM — A Constant Voice
In 2019, Business Insider published a story, with pictures, on the busiest most structurally deficient bridge in every state and the costs needed to repair them based on a report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). It’s a daunting read that proves that not shoring up infrastructure investment is a national dilemma.
As Executive Director of ATM, I have the honor of meeting or learning about important stakeholders such as Granite and Americans like Johnson. They are the lifeblood of our nation and their work provides momentum during these difficult times.
Sustainable and long-term funding has been an ongoing focus for ATM members. Twenty years ago, the Coalition formed after bringing the business and labor sectors together but it also wanted to engage the public. They are the users of an immense system that is linked to their quality of life, supports small and large companies, and activates communities, interstate commerce and global trade.
Separately, state and local public-education initiatives have led to voters in states and municipalities throughout America passing legislation to create transportation funding streams. Johnson points out that California raised its gas tax in 2017.
But Americans need Washington, D.C., to do its job too.
We know these things:
* While our nation faced massive unemployment, essential workers and those in the transportation infrastructure sector, such as Granite employees, went to work to keep America moving forward;
* The nation’s transportation infrastructure is funded by local, state and federal governments and the private sector, but federal funding languishes;
* Revenue is derived from a federal gas tax — a fee that has not been raised since 1993;
* General funds have been used to cover falling Highway Trust Fund (HTF) receipts;
* Multiple revenue generators need to be examined; and
* Our elected leaders can work on a bipartisan basis to provide solutions and long-term investment to rebuild a national transportation system established more than 70 years ago.
As John F. Kennedy said, “Today the challenge of political courage looms larger than ever before.”
President Biden and new Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg have placed infrastructure as a policy priority and so have members of Congress. ATM thanks them as we forge ahead with hope.
NSSGA is a member of the ATM.