Recently the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released their 2009 Report Card for America's Infrastructure outlining the current condition of America's roads, bridges, water systems, and other public works. The report showed that decades of underfunding and neglect have jeopardized the ability of our nation's infrastructure to support the economy and facilitate the American way of life. ASCE assigned a cumulative grade of D to the nation's infrastructure and noted a five-year investment of $2.2 trillion was needed for improvements.

Concrete is the core construction material for much of our nation's infrastructure, and this sector is a major market for all aspects of the industry. Nearly 50% of all cement consumption occurs in public construction, with the building of roads, bridges, and other public projects a vital part of the industry.

The concrete industry is committed to building lasting public assets. “Our infrastructure must be constructed with the highest quality materials that reduce future maintenance and ensure durability,” says Brian McCarthy, president and CEO of the Portland Cement Association (PCA).

Beyond just using more cement and concrete products, the issue becomes how to use them safely and efficiently, and in applications that maximize their inherent benefits to improve infrastructure.

Sound infrastructure is critical because all industries depend on rail, waterways, and highways to transport raw materials to production facilities and finished products to other businesses and end consumers. Having reliable infrastructure also affects the pocketbooks of the average commuter. The overall economic impact of traffic delays, according to a PCA report, adds up to $80 billion per year. By the year 2032, without improvements to our roads and highways, wasted time and higher transportation costs will result in a cumulative economic impact that could exceed $150 billion annually.

Making the infrastructure grade

The ASCE report card presented five key solutions for raising the nation's infrastructure grade: increase federal leadership in infrastructure; promote sustainability and resilience; develop federal, state, and regional infrastructure plans; address life-cycle costs and ongoing maintenance; and increase and improve infrastructure investment from all stakeholders.

Many airports need attention and that work would add jobs in the concrete construction industry.
PCA Many airports need attention and that work would add jobs in the concrete construction industry.

Concrete in the new economy

According to market research recently conducted by PCA, 77% of surveyed architects, designers, engineers, and other design professionals say they chose concrete as their sustainable material for recent projects. In fact, energy efficiency was perceived as the most important attribute when selecting a building material, followed by durability and aesthetics. With the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the concrete industry has a unique opportunity for growth in what was otherwise a dismal forecast. The $787 billion economic stimulus plan recently approved by Congress pumps money into health care, renewable energy development, and the nation's infrastructure.

For example, PCA estimates that the $260 to $270 billion proposed spending initiatives would increase cement consumption roughly 16 million metric tons over program lives. About 80% of cement consumption gains are attributed to transportation and infrastructure spending initiatives in ARRA.

In addition, tax relief and aid to states in the package will translate into a slower deterioration in construction markets during 2009 and 2010. Aid to states could make a more significant improvement in the concrete construction outlook. Roughly 50% of cement consumption is consumed by the public sector. Of that, more than 90% is related to state and local construction.

The speed of which the projects actually will start up is yet to be seen. “Significant attention is being focused on the size and details of the forthcoming stimulus package. It must be remembered, however, that the economic stimulus program will be overlaid upon the current weak underlying economic fundamentals,” says Ed Sullivan, PCA chief economist. “Even President Obama himself said the bill is only the first step in our economic recovery.”