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Industry Reps Pitch For Infrastructure Spending


Bill Schneider, president and CEO of Knife River, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure regarding the status of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

Bill Schneider, president and CEO of Knife River, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure regarding the status of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Kevin Gannon, vice president Northeast Asphalt, also testified.

Schneider testified in his capacity as chairman of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association. He spoke about the benefits to aggregates employees from ARRA stimulus money and to discuss the condition of America's infrastructure, construction unemployment numbers and the need for a longñterm funding bill.

Schneider said that despite an 11% decrease in aggregate production in the first quarter of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009, there was evidence that ARRA funds helped maintain the market and prevented significant erosion of the work force in the transportation construction market of the aggregates industry.

Schneider cautioned that ARRA is a one-time bankroll and that construction workers are unemployed at more than double the rate of other American workers. The unemployment rate peaked at more than 27% earlier in 2010 and is now at 20.1%, due to increased seasonal construction activity. With a decline in construction activity, nearly 2.2 million construction workers have lost their jobs since industry employment and aggregates production peaked in mid-2006.

Schneider also described the deplorable and unsafe conditions of the nation's roads and bridges, citing The American Society of Civil Engineers, which reported that one-third of America's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and that bridges are in even worse condition.

Schneider concluded his testimony by urging support for a long-term highway funding and multi-year authorization bill, and for making it a priority in Congress. Passing the bill would mean passing a jobs bill and putting thousands of Americans back to work not only in the construction industry but in the many other supportive industries. Supporting a well-funded, multi-year authorization bill that includes capacity expansion also benefits millions of Americans who depend on safe driving surfaces.

Gannon, a director on the American Road & Transportation Builders Association board, told the committee that recovery act-funded projects his company is working on have not wholly offset the 50% drop in private sector work in recent years. He said, however, that ARRA projects have allowed them to hang on to the firmís existing work force.

Gannon said that as of July 16, more than 11,000 highway and bridge projects under the recovery act had moved to the construction stage and over 3,000 were now finished, worth a total of $23 billion. ìThis is $23 billion that is generating jobs in direct construction and the supply sectors and all of it is boosting the economy,î he said.

He said that while the recovery act was currently supporting transportation work and jobs in 2010, its impacts will phase down quickly when those funds are no longer available in 2011.

ìFrankly, the uncertain outlook about the reauthorization of the federal highway and public transportation programs is making a challenging situation worse,î Gannon said. ìIt is also the uncertainty and trepidation caused by how the delay is being handledówith short-term extensions and deficit spending.î

He closed his testimony saying that true economic recovery for the transportation construction industry will only be realized when Congress and the Obama administration address the nationís infrastructure challenges head on and pass a robustly funded highway and transit investment bill.