Ed Talks: Aggregates Exec Discusses How Waning Infrastructure & Underfunding Hurt America
It’s a Friday afternoon after a week of frigid temperatures and winter storms and Gary Johnson is speaking with the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition about the necessity for viable and sustainable federal transportation investment.
As Vice President of Land & Quarry in the Construction and Materials Operations Group of infrastructure leader Granite Construction Co. (Granite), Johnson has both a micro and macro view of the increasingly prescient concerns of traffic congestion, aging infrastructure, and insufficient federal investment.
Currently, Granite is a member of a team that is completing work to rebuild, replace and/or upgrade 559 bridges in Pennsylvania alone. Yes, five hundred and fifty-nine.
“When a state contracts with somebody to rebuild 500 existing bridges, you’re not really adding capacity,” explains Johnson. “You’re maintaining infrastructure that hasn’t been maintained in years. That’s why it’s so important that we get more federal funding and long-term sustainable funding that maintains but also adds capacity.”
Pennsylvania’s bridges are only one harbinger of why America needs to modernize and grow its surface transportation. With the condition of the network having declined both nationally and globally, old bridges, bad roads and underfunded public transit are sadly becoming as American as apple pie and baseball.
Granite is a diversified construction and construction materials company based in Watsonville, Calif., that works throughout the nation.
Johnson provides a few examples of Granite’s work along with lagging funding to discuss needs throughout the nation: a project partnership on an Interstate 4 stretch in Orlando; crucial $3 billion work rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York; and the Riverside County (Calif.) Transportation Commission waiting on $2 billion in federal funding on four major projects.
“This needs to happen. These projects need to come online. They will provide, certainly, jobs early. But the surface transportation [portion] — so much of our goods coming out of the ports — are moved by trucks on Interstate 10 and on Interstate 15 east and north,” adds Johnson. “And that’s an example of projects that are ready and they’re just waiting on funding. They’ve been planned and they’ve been environmentally reviewed. Some of them have been designed, and other ones still need design. But there are roughly 700 cities that have projects like that across the U.S. and they’re just waiting on funding.”
The aggregates sector, along with other industries tied to transportation infrastructure, is a jobs creator and economic driver. Every dollar of wages earned in the industry generates an additional $4 of wages in other industries, according to the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), of which Granite is a member.
Johnson has worked for 19 years for the nearly century-old company and notes that diversity and inclusion have emerged through the years as central to its operations. Granite employs 9,200 people and has offices in more than 75 locations throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. The company operates 76 construction materials facilities throughout the west, producing asphalt concrete, concrete aggregates, base rock, chip seal and slurry seal aggregate, and other specialty rock and sands.
Granite works on a range of infrastructure efforts, including rail and water systems, airports and ports. But roads and construction materials have always been building blocks of its success. Johnson says the publicly traded business produced enough aggregate last year to build close to 2,000 lane miles of highway.
Infrastructure, which includes surface transportation, is emerging as a policy platform for federal lawmakers. The Biden Administration espouses the need for a bold and broad legislative package.
In August, USA Today reported that, based on U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, national statistics were the worst since the government began keeping records in 1947. However, Dallas Federal Reserve President Robert Kaplan recently said he expects the economy to grow at about a 5 percent pace in 2021 and Wall Street experts have been positive about an ambitious infrastructure vision.
While many refer to infrastructure investment, including stimulus dollars and a focus on climate change, as a way to resuscitate America’s struggling economy, the truth is the country needed another multi-year federal infrastructure bill prior to COVID-19.