Asphalt industry is a big success in infrastructure plan

In the midst of infrastructure bill negotiations last year, with the pandemic still limiting face-to-face meetings, lobbyist Martin T. Whitmer Jr found a creative way to get ahead of events. legislator with a message from his client, the asphalt industry: He pulled a pair of foldable lawn chairs out of the trunk of his car and invited lawmakers to meet him in a park near the Capitol.

“You just have to come face to face with some things, and that is really helpful,” Mr. Whitmer said.

The strategy seems to have worked. Of the $1 trillion in spending authorized by the infrastructure law that President Biden signed into law in November, the asphalt industry may end up getting the biggest share. And while roads are always likely to be a major focus of the law, the lobbying effort has provided an opportunity for the industry to promote what it considers environmentally conscious, making funding easy. more bearable to lawmakers concerned about road building causing climate change.

The infrastructure package allocates at least $350 billion over five years for highways and bridges, according to the Eno Center for Transportation, a nonprofit transportation consulting organization in Washington, compared with about $91 billion for vehicles public. An additional $19 billion for the Department of Transportation to fund major projects, like tunnels for underwater vehicles or bridge replacements, could increase spending on sidewalks.

The highway and bridge budget will cover the engineers, steel, concrete and other elements of the structure. But lobbyists and transportation experts expect a large portion of sidewalk spending to go to asphalt, the paving material for 94% of US roads and bridges (the remaining 6% is paved with asphalt). concrete).

According to lobbyists, congressional aides and others involved in the process, the asphalt industry’s funding victory appears to be the result of legislative preference for meat and potatoes. Lawmakers realized that in a polarized political environment, they could find common cause in road and bridge repairs. Asphalt advocates, hoping to counter the idea that asphalt harms the environment, see the material as a unlikely ally in the fight against climate change.

“We’re America’s #1 recycled product,” said Jay Hansen, executive vice president of advocacy at the National Asphalt Sidewalk Association, the industry’s main trade group. A 21-page letter the association sent to Mr Biden’s transition team in late 2020 titled “Building Better Again With Asphalt” suggested asphalt was also crucial to job creation and economic recovery.

The first wave of funding under the infrastructure plan, focusing on areas such as broadband, energy programs and water services, was made available shortly after the bill was signed. The next wave, containing tens of billions of dollars for highways and bridges, will be released when Congress passes the 2022 spending package, likely next month. That funding would be distributed to cities and states, combined with their own funding from fuel taxes and other fees, to pay for construction projects, including paving.

Controversy over how to spend money has been stirring up a lot. A memo from the Federal Highway Administration in December prioritized improving existing roads before building new ones – a proposal that transportation industry executives see as a efforts to limit the environmental impact of new construction – has sparked protests from some state transportation officials, who say the guidelines undercut them.

In letter In front of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Friday, more than two dozen Republican senators – including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, a senior Republican in the party. Environment and Works Committee – argued that the memo’s proposal was at odds with Congress’ intent to pass the bill. The senators asked Buttigieg to rescind or amend the memo to better reflect the spirit of the law.

At the same time, an attempt by Senate Democrats to suspend the federal fuel tax to counter rising consumer prices was met with immediate opposition from the transportation industry. An industry trade group said in a letter to Senate leaders that even a temporary tax cut risks unraveling the infrastructure package.

Despite continuing political controversies, asphalt producers say they are excited about the secure five-year prospect of funding, which will allow them to hire and expand.

“We have the capacity to do more,” said Dan Garcia, president of the Marietta, Ga-based asphalt manufacturing company CW Matthews.

Mr. Garcia’s company operates 27 asphalt plants across Georgia, crushing rocks quarried from nearby quarries, combining them with sand and gravel into a mixture known as “aggregate” and cooking them with the resin. sugar, a viscous liquid derived from crude oil. The asphalt mixture is then put on an 18-ton truck to transport the mixture to the construction site.

With a funding increase of up to 20% expected at the Georgia Department of Transportation, CW Matthews’ largest customer, Garcia is now looking to add more than 100 employees to his 1,300-person team.

Pavement groups have urged the government to provide more permanent funding for the roads before Mr Biden is elected. The last major package of funding, the America’s Surface Vehicle Remediation Act, or FAST Act, was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015. The Trump administration has presented a plan of its own. themselves, but a series of “infrastructure weeks” that resulted in little progress eventually became a joke. By 2020, the pandemic has overtaken most other priorities.

In December 2020, shortly after Mr. Biden’s win, the National Asphalt Sidewalk Association sent the “Building Better Back with Asphalt” letter to the president-elect. The debate over the need to finance new roads and bridges is not new, but the positioning of asphalt as an environmentally friendly material is well-founded.

Mr. Whitmer, who knows several transportation advisers on the president’s transition team, recalls being encouraged by the response. “They don’t know that bitumen is the most recycled product,” he said advisers told him during sub-channel discussions.

However, the overall environmental impact of Asphalt is less. New roads to ease urban traffic congestion simply bring more driver, which further increases carbon emissions. Recycling various materials in asphalt, such as soil, used tires or soybean oil, and cooking asphalt components at lower temperatures to reduce emissions are promising activities. but has not yet been widely applied.

Mr. Garcia’s plants still produce relatively warmer “hot mix” asphalt pavements, and tend to use 20 to 40 percent new material from recycled asphalt pavements – more than the company’s standard roads. America.

Asphalt itself is a polluting hydrocarbon. And a recent study by Yale University engineers It is believed that asphalt causes air pollution when exposed to bright sunlight. (The Asphalt Association questioned some of the conclusions of the Yale study, stating that “asphalt material from under-construction pavements is not a significant source of urban smoke.”)

Last April, after Mr. Biden revealed a work plan Prioritizing the rebuilding of roads and bridges, traffic groups began to coordinate more closely. Jeff Davis, a senior fellow at the Eno Center, says the mentality is “the high tide will lift all the boats”. He added, “They all agreed that more money would help people.”

To promote greater quality lobbying, Vulcan Materials, the nation’s largest producer of construction aggregates, brought Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux, Georgia Democrat, to the Norcross quarry and Senator Bill Hagerty, Republican of Tennessee — who made his way through college partly through shoveling asphalt — to tour its Nashville quarry.

In Washington, Mr. Whitmer pulled a chair out of the trunk and began inviting members of Congress to coffee in the park. During the video calls, Mr. Hansen showed the solid asphalt mixture measuring 2 square inches. “You use it every day, but you don’t realize it,” he would say.

Last April, when the White House and some legislators began defining the infrastructure In general, some industry executives and lobbyists worry about money that once went on the highway shared with projects like federally subsidized housing. An industry proposal to raise the federal fuel tax to help pay for the new spending has been rejected by Senate leaders. This whole process has been marred by partisan polarization in Congress.

But the matter proved to be of sufficient importance to enough members of both sides that a bipartisan agreement was reached, providing significant new funding for needs such as public transportation. and better access to broadband as well as overland.

“Both sides agree on something that is good. Wish we would see that more often,” Garcia said on a recent morning in Adairsville, Ga., over the sound of truck equipment as his team paved asphalt along 140th Street. It doesn’t just affect us – these truckers, the quarry – but obviously this is progress, right? ” Asphalt industry is a big success in infrastructure plan

Fry Electronics Team

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