Will the stimulus package make a difference for our nation's infrastructure and the concrete industry? That's the question that will be on contractors' minds for the balance of 2009 as the projects are let and the work begins. Many experts believe that the stimulus package will only scratch the surface, but it's a good start if the money is allocated properly.

Sue Lane, manager for bridges and transportation structures for the Portland Cement Association, Skokie, Ill., has been tracking the allocation of the stimulus money for transportation. She is focused particularly on how many projects are going to use concrete. She recognizes how extreme the needs are for America's infrastructure.

Deficient bridges

“Roughly 25% of our bridges in America are deficient. Of that 25%, 13% are functionally obsolete and 12% are structurally deficient,” says Lane. These numbers must improve because, as she explains, “if our infrastructure fails, we fail as a nation, externally. We need our roads and bridges to move people, goods, and services. We rely on our safe water systems for clean water, on consistent power grids to deliver electricity, and on strong dams and levees to hold back the water during storms and floods.”

Lane looks at the findings from the 2009 American Society of Civil Engineer's (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Card. She sees a nation with barely passing grades. Stimulus money alone won't raise those grades, but it's a start. In addition, there also must be a new transportation bill in October, stresses Lane, because the current one expires in September 2009.

The states react

In some states, stimulus money is just going toward resurfacing. Others are dedicating the funds to structural repairs or total replacements. Fortunately, the states can use 100% of the stimulus funds for a project—matching funds are not required—freeing up the states from trying to find money in their own coffers.

The requirements to use the stimulus funds are strict. The states must allot 50% of their stimulus money by June 30, otherwise it's redistributed to other states that have already assigned their money. The states must allocate their remaining 50% in one year or it is redistributed to other states.

Another difficulty is that the permitting requirements have not been reduced, often making the timetable sometimes difficult to meet. But, the states are proceeding, working against the clock to get their projects submitted.

The 2009 ASCE's Infrastructure Report Card
The 2009 ASCE's Infrastructure Report Card

Tennessee has grabbed hold of the process and immediately is putting the money to good use. Their first 10 stimulus projects awarded are bridge projects. All of these are bridge replacements and all are concrete—prestressed and reinforced. They have submitted a total of 44 bridge projects using $41.9 million in stimulus funds.

Pennsylvania has the fifth biggest stimulus amount that will be spent on infrastructure. They have 117 bridges and one tunnel that the stimulus money will go toward, a total of $478.7 million.

Oregon has specified six bridges, a total of $9.7 million and has set a goal of repairing or replacing more than 300 bridges in 10 years. That's $1.3 billion being spent on bridges in that state alone.

Quality materials

The best materials are needed to build bridges and make repairs. “States are looking for good quality concrete, and we want to hit the environmental and sustainability issues as well,” says Lane.

Lane has found that the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) emphasis on high-performance concrete (HPC) has increased the amount of bridges designed and built with quality concrete. “I think HPC is an evolving idea. They first used the principles of HPC in increasing deck durability and beam strength and durability, but now some piers and drilled shafts feature high-performance concrete. It's a big success story,” says Lane. When she worked for the FHWA, she was a part of the team that kicked off the push toward using HPC. “To be honest, it brings me a big smile. That's what we were hoping, that it would become the norm.”