US cement manufacturers to Congress: Don’t delay on infrastructure
© Greg Nash

As Congress and the Trump administration consider an infrastructure package of up to $1 trillion, U.S. cement and concrete manufacturers that stand to play a critical role in revitalizing the nation’s infrastructure are converging on the capital with a clear message: Don’t delay.

It is no secret that America needs to upgrade its infrastructure. For many years, civil engineers have given the U.S. infrastructure abysmal grades.

These grades are not an abstraction.

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Americans have lost tires and wheels to potholes, have put up with mounting flight delays, have been evacuated from their homes due to floods and dam failures, and they have had their health threatened by outdated water networks. Our systems cannot handle the demands of today's America, let alone those of tomorrow.

 

What will be the impact of increasing population concentrated in cities?

Of the shift to online shopping and delivery?

Of autonomous vehicles?

All trends point to the need for better and more efficient infrastructure than what we have, while what we have has been getting worse and less efficient.

Poor infrastructure is a drag on the American economy and on society in general. Conversely, modern, efficient infrastructure can help boost the economy and make life better for all.

The message is clear— America's lawmakers must act now. Not next year, not in another Congress.

The most critical step in revitalizing America's infrastructure is to provide sustainable long-term funding mechanisms.

This is fundamentally necessary not only to repair and upgrade the traditional infrastructure systems we have today, but also to build the next generation of systems that will serve us far into the future.

Funding for highway and bridge construction is particularly crucial. Lawmakers currently pay for this through the "Highway Trust Fund."

As with many federal programs, the intent was good, but the execution has been flawed.

Specifically, the money going into the Highway Trust Fund has not been sufficient to maintain our current 20th-century system of highways and bridges, let alone build a 21stt-century system.

This week a number of cement and concrete-related organizations, including the Portland Cement Association, will press Congress to take action. The U.S. cement and concrete industry employs 535,000 people and contributes $100 billion annually to the economy.

Our industry will make several key points to Congress: 

  • A strategic asset must be funded strategically.America's infrastructure is a mainstay of our economy, supports our national security, and directly affects our quality of life. A sustainable system for generating and managing sufficient funds to maintain and expand the nation's infrastructure, year after year, is absolutely essential.
  • When you build it, build it right.Investments in U.S. infrastructure should reflect the capabilities of a first-world country, built to last for a century, delivering maximum value to the citizens that pay for it. Designs should be evaluated on true costs and impacts over their entire life cycle, not simply lowest up-front price – we’re not buying lettuce, we're equipping our nation.Design innovation and healthy competition among alternative paving systems should also be encouraged. A study conducted by MIT shows that when there is competition among different types of pavement, for example, prices for both products go down – saving government and taxpayers money.
  • If you fund it, we can supply it. Our economic analysis shows that the industry can readily scale up to meet any currently proposed revitalization plan, including a border wall. For example, the U.S. cement industry is operating at only 79 percent of production capacity.Manufacturers are adding even more domestic production capacity each year: 1.3 million metric tons in 2016 alone, and another 1.6 million metric tons planned by 2018. We can do this with American cement, and we're ready to roll. 
  • Delay has cost. The current condition of our infrastructure is impacting the economy and society every day.Because these costs are spread over the entire economy and population, they are not obvious— but they are immense. Congress and the President must therefore act soon.

We're ready to go when you are.

Toscas is president and CEO of the Portland Cement Association, which represents America’s cement manufacturers and is part of the North American Concrete Alliance.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.