Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Man Said No

With a concept similar to what state DOTs have dealt with for the past couple of years, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made a decision this week. He decided not to move forward with the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project.

ARC was a large, multi-billion-dollar rail tunnel project that would move commuters from New York to New Jersey and back again. The published goal was to reduce congestion.

While that’s a nice goal, it left me with a few questions concerning its proposed drop-off points. I felt sympathy for the taxpayers who wanted New York’s DOT to foot a commensurate amount of the bill with New York’s benefits from the project, and with those who wanted more important stops added to the train’s destination. It looked as though political haggling would then delay a project that the higher-ups needed to ramrod through right away.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who seems more interested in where we have our hands when we’re driving than where we’ll get funding for making roads safer, made a special plea to Governor Christie earlier in October to keep the project alive. You see, the feds were only paying part of the bill, yet seemed to hang their political hats on the project’s success.

According to the Oct. 27 post on bemoaning Christie’s economic decision and giving LaHood yet another place to whine, “FTA does not require cash commitments to deal with such contingencies, and only requires that a project sponsor identify a non-Federal funding stream that could be called upon to cover contingency costs.”

Apparently, Christie didn’t want to search for additional funding streams. He didn’t want the offered loan from the USDOT Railroad and Rehabilitation Improvement Financing program. He didn’t want to set up a public-private partnership assuming some of the risk.

I wonder if he figured he’d be looking for streams to fund the drying federal well. Think about it. If you’re counting on funds from an unreliable national trough, why move forward with a $9 billion-plus project that someone has already said might creep over the $10 billion mark if a few small bits and pieces go awry?

So Governor Christie has made a sound business decision based on what all 50 states have been basing infrastructure decisions on for the past couple of years: lack of long-term funding reliability from the top. Where’s the reauthorization plan to back up the infrastructure plan LaHood wants Christie to sign off on? Ain’t seen it yet.

Let’s get a long-term authorization plan for transportation infrastructure in place before we badmouth the planners for not planning ahead. The project that Christie had no confidence in could have reduced congestion. It could have provided jobs and stimulated the economy exponentially because that’s what construction projects do. But construction projects don’t materialize out of thin air. They require reliable funding sources. I think Governor Christie gets that.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

AP Website Delivers the How-to Industry Resource You’ve Been Waiting For

(from the October 2010 Editor's Note in AsphaltPro Magazine)

Let’s face it: when creative minds get together, they tend to overproduce a project. I think that’s one of the reasons people roll their eyes when you suggest forming a committee to work on something. Committees tend to slow progress. For AsphaltPro magazine, we’ve been working on a creative project off and on for three years—our website. Here’s where the committee comes in.

The staff at AsphaltPro is more than the Chris Harrison-Sally Shoemaker-Sandy Lender team that you’ve known for years and met at tradeshows and state association meetings. While the three of us have our experience in publishing and the asphalt industry to recommend us for building a first-class asphalt business website, we also have our creative sides that recommend us for building something aesthetically pleasing.

Then we have two artists in our headquarters office who can build, create and design in their sleep! Combined, the staff has 62 years in magazine publishing (more than 33 of it specifically in the asphalt industry). That’s a lot of creative juices. Add in a whole company in our headquarters town that designs websites for a living and I think you get the picture.

I don’t mind telling you that the team has pulled out a lot of hair over the website project. We wanted something that looked full, yet clean and easy to navigate. We wanted something filled with content and useful information, yet quick to load. We wanted something that complemented the print magazine, yet didn’t compete with it and certainly wasn’t redundant. I can’t tell you how annoyed I get with magazine sites that merely regurgitate their print information. Why would I pay for one when the other is free? Why would I support the murder of innocent trees to have a magazine sent to my home if the editor’s just going to put the information up on a website a week or two after it arrives? That’s stupid and irresponsible. I have no patience for it.

Creative minds want to build something superior to that.

So we did.

I present to you:

Of course there are departments and articles that bear regurgitation. But it doesn’t take an outside expert to tell us that magazine readers and web readers tolerate different styles. We’ve edited our content for the web to make it user-friendly. When you visit, you’re not going to be stuck in front of a monitor trying to read tiny type in magazine format. No…I give classes on website and blog development and intelligent online social media use. I’ll be presenting this kind of marketing information at CONEXPO-CON/AGG in March to assist contractors and producers to use their online presence effectively.

We know what we’re doing at AsphaltPro not just in the asphalt arena, not just in the magazine publishing arena, but also in the website presentation arena. Now we’re offering a pleasing, informative, useful website to the masses. I invite you to visit often for updates and information that impacts your bottom line. Then be sure to send me a note about the site’s efficacy. Let me know what else we can add to the site or to this blog to enhance your business.
Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender (sandy @ theasphaltpro dot com)

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

What Nice Rhetoric You Offer, Mr. President

By Sandy Lender, Editor, AsphaltPro

At a Labor Day celebration earlier this week, President Obama unveiled a surprise for road-builders. He has a six-year plan for re-building roads and rail. Apparently, he doesn’t have a plan to PAY for re-building roads and rail, but he’d like to see us fix up 150,000 miles of road and put down 4,000 miles of track.

Not too shabby.

I’d like to suggest to my boss, whom many of you know, that we just hire some extra editorial staff, bump up the pages of AsphaltPro to about 102 per issue, add three safety features per issue, and tack on some producer and contractor profiles per issue so we can showcase more “here’s how your peers can help you succeed” information. Wouldn’t that be cool? Who cares how it gets paid for!? My plan is what’s important. Now aren’t all you readers behind me? You’d help me get the extra staff elected, right?

Not too shabby.

The fact of the matter is 20 percent of the construction industry is out of work right now. Fact check that at any unemployment, ARRA, or construction resource you like. We’ve all got the same figures. During President Obama’s speech Monday, he called it “nearly one in five construction workers.” (For non-industry readers visiting the blog, that number will see its seasonal increase this winter.) The scary thing is this: folks are afraid of how we’re going to pay to keep roads and bridges safe, thus the 80 percent of workers employed right now and the President’s strategy for transportation are endangered.

I think it would help if we could get it through representatives’ minds that user fees and taxes are different beasts, and they need to educate their constituents on that fact. Here’s an example:

I have a friend named Joe who owns a small red car. Joe purchases gas for that car regularly, thus pays a user fee for the Highway Trust Fund. Joe has a friend whom we’ll call Pete who does not own a car. Pete does not have a driver’s license. (Pete isn’t a conspiracy theorist, but he does live “off the grid,” if you catch my drift. In fact, I’m not using his real name.) Pete never pays the user fee for the Highway Trust Fund because Pete does not buy gas to walk around on our sidewalks and streets. When Pete has a doctor appointment in Miami, he borrows Joe’s little red car and has a friend, whom we’ll call Dolores, drive him across the state. At that time, Pete buys gas for the car. He’s using the system and paying the user fee that day.

Do you see? The gasoline user fee is not a tax. Pete doesn’t pay it when he’s not using it. Neither does anyone else who opts to ride a bike or walk around or take free transportation.

Is that how we’ll pay for the President’s new transportation strategy? Or will Congress, already hesitant to talk about “taxes,” shoot it down? You can visit NAPA's site to get more information. Also check out a popular Congressional opinion on tax increases.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Give Us Something We Can Rely On

(from the August/September 2010 Editor's Note of AsphaltPro Magazine)

For quite some time now I’ve suggested that raising the gasoline user fee to supplement the Highway Trust Fund would be problematic. I’ve encouraged members of the asphalt industry to write in with their ideas for funding; I’ve offered some painful ideas of my own. Now, I’m disappointed to say, the secretary of transportation has made what I consider an irresponsible announcement for someone in his position by stating “raising the gas tax is not an option.”

How dare he slam that door?

He’s falling back on the already disproved concept of toll roads and the not-yet-disproved Obama plan for highway funding. I cringe. I assume I don’t have to explain to the AsphaltPro audience the problems with relying on tolls for funding—or the sudden detriment to parallel corridors and those corridors’ pavement maintenance plans when tolls are set in place.

We can all agree the current gasoline user fee doesn’t cover Highway Trust Fund needs. You don’t need me to tell you it’s been losing “currency” for years due to inflation and, more recently, due to fewer miles driven and ethanol additives, etc.

What the trust fund needs is a good shot in the arm with a cost-of-living tax hike. Whether or not such a beast can be conjured during this economy is for the pundits to debate. Although I have an opinion on the matter that’s south of positive, I’m not ready to go down without a fight. There are people who can read a graph, if you present it to them logically. There are people who will understand that the gasoline user fee is a deficit-neutral item that is truly a user fee. If you don’t use the road today, you don’t pay the fee on gasoline today. It’s pretty simple.

Unfortunately, the loss of the gasoline user fee’s effectiveness coupled with Congress’s inaction on a long-term reauthorization bill has gutted infrastructure planning and expenditures. Jay Hansen of NAPA pointed out during a transportation coalition webinar at the end of July that this means highway jobs and conditions are at risk. Jobs are at risk to the tune of 870,000 people over the next two years. That’s something your representatives need to know. They have a chance to save their constituents’ jobs if they’ll just get on the ball and get a user fee increase and a reauthorization bill taken care of.

While we’re on the topic, Congress has bandied about a new transportation bill that throws another $4 billion on top of the expired SAFETEA-LU’s allotted monies. Again, where does the funding come from? We love to see Congress finally give attention to an industry that can rescue the economy and create lasting jobs from one end of the construction spectrum to the other, but we must enforce the idea that this industry of superheroes deserves to have a strong, reliable, lasting bank account behind it. Congress needs to put in place not just the rosy idea of planned projects that make a safe, positive transportation infrastructure, but also the resources that make the building of those very real and solid projects possible.

We must enforce the idea that long-term planning at the state level happens when agencies and owners can rely on the money promised in a transportation bill. The bill must be lasting, it must be stable, it must be adequate for the times. Otherwise, a soft and mushy set of half-plans and half-promises leaves unsteady work orders on tap. What Congress must do is deliver a strong and reliable bill backed by a strong and reliable funding stream so we, as an industry, can deliver a strong and reliable work force with strong and reliable infrastructure for the future.

Have you shared this message with your representatives? Do they know how important their actions are when it comes to transportation funding legislation? I encourage you to fill them in. Please visit NAPA’s website to download toolkits for contacting your representatives. Also, be sure to take advantage of the brief window you have with your representatives while they’re in their home districts as this issue of AsphaltPro hits your desk. They return to Washington soon and you can reach them in their offices there after Sept. 13.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender
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Highway Funding from a Local POV

Your AsphaltPro Magazine editor, Sandy Lender, was invited to prepare an article for a Southwest Florida magazine, Business Currents, on the topic of highway funding after ranting about the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act to the editor one evening. (You will find information about the Kerry-Lieberman bill in the posts below.)

If you're interested, you can read the locally-slanted piece titled "Highway Funding Affects You, Your Clients" at the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce website, or try this shortened URL:

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Sammy Hagar Funding Initiative

(from the June/July 2010 Editor's Note of AsphaltPro Magazine)
I ask you to bear with me for just a moment while I plagiarize Sammy Hagar.

Go on & write me up for 125
Post my face, wanted dead or alive
Take my license & all that jive
I can’t drive 55!

(Many thanks go out to Steve Jackson of NB West Contracting, Missouri, for sending this shot of himself with Sammy at a show July 1, 2010! Rock on!)

There’s a reason I’m channeling ’80s hair band rock today. I’ve got an idea. You see, I read an article online about a month or so ago claiming county police officers were stepping up their diligence in detaining and ticketing speeding motorists in an effort to make up languishing budgets in our current economic distress. Of course the obligatory quote from a sheriff suggested that officers are always diligent in keeping motorways safe, thus there’s no increase in ticketing these days. (Statistics showed otherwise, but that’s not the point of this editorial piece.) The point of this editorial piece is to suggest we make good use of increased diligence in all state highway patrols.

I would like to suggest all speeding fines be increased dramatically.

I would further like to suggest that a significant percentage of all speeding fines assessed by state highway patrol officers be allocated specifically to highway funding.

I would further like to suggest that the imagined “10-mph grace” allowed for motorists to travel in excess of posted limits be decreased. This will not only enhance motorists’ safety on our nation’s roadways, it will add funding to much-needed highway building and maintenance coffers in every state.

Now, I have to admit that it pains me to write this editorial. I’m guilty of driving too fast most of the time. The only time I truly slow down is when passing a work zone because I’m aware of the danger to workers there. You can imagine the irritation I cause for following drivers when I approach a work zone and start slowing in accordance to the law.

I-75 runs up and down the state of Florida with a posted speed limit of 70 mph. Drivers run up and down I-75 at a clip of 80 mph on a good day. We hit 90 when we can get away with it. Surely members of the state highway patrol are as aware of this as the rest of the driving public. Why aren’t they out there slowing us to something safer? Why aren’t the citizens of Florida sharing the profits in the form of safer roads? Yes, a percentage goes into the funding coffers now. Apparently, it’s not enough.

The FAA funding bill faces its headaches that spell another delay this July 3. The Lieberman-Kerry bill dooms potential user fee increases later this year (see the post below for more on that). Current measures fall short of necessary funding for infrastructure maintenance. What’s the nation to do to keep commerce lively and safety in check?

It’s time to hike up the consequences for speeding and hike up the benefits for the highway system. The next time a Lamborghini races a Corvette—and, yes, that happens down here in Collier County—toward Miami, a string of Florida’s finest should be waiting in ambush to hand them citations that will make my Charger’s smug—and easy—drop to 70 mph feel smoother. (Or maybe I just have to live with Dodge’s funky transmission problem that the dealer refused to fix while the car was under the original warranty…)

As Mr. Hagar says, it’s difficult to drive those slower speeds, and therein lies the genius of this funding plan. Speeders can’t keep their feet off the accelerators. One of those crazy TV channels even has a show about it. We’ll be getting funding from here until the end of time, no matter what kind of car the motorist drives or what kind of fuel he/she puts in it. Now who wants to take the idea to his senator? You know Ray LaHood will sign off on it if you add in a no-cell-phone-use-while-driving clause.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender, Editor
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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Where are Those Transportation Monies Going?

Late last week, Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced the American Power Act (APA). I wish these things would have more transparent names. This particular bill could be called the Gouge Energy Companies Until They Gouge Consumers at the Gas Pump Act (GECUTGCGPA). The acronym would sound a bit like hacking up something unpleasant.


What the Kerry-Lieberman bill proposes is that GHG emissions in the transportation sector would be addressed by mandating oil companies purchase carbon allowances at a price set during quarterly auctions. To offset the hit in profits, companies would probably pass those price-problems along to consumers at the gas pump. Sounds about like a motor fuels user fee, doesn’t it? Why on earth would any tax-paying, red-blooded American vote for a user fee increase to help get monies into the transportation fund later on down the road if he or she is already feeling the effect of a user fee increase at the pump? Presents a conundrum, doesn’t it?

As it turns out, Kerry and Lieberman’s bill will allocate a bit of money to transportation funds, but it’s paltry at best. It’s not enough to keep current systems solvent (and that includes the mass-transit leeches sucking money from the parts of transportation that move our economy). So there’s no time like the present to get on the phone to make your voice heard in Congress. Let your representatives know that we need ALL transportation monies funneled to transportation resources.

I invite you to visit NAPA's government affairs page to get more info and to get connected with your Senator today. When you talk to your Senators and their staff, please discuss the following:

* The amount of funding for the Highway Trust Fund in the Kerry-Lieberman bill is inadequate.

* Will they contact Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and other Senate leaders to insist that 100 percent of new fees on motor fuels detailed in the bill should be returned to the transportation sector and invested under a multi-year authorization bill.

* Explain to your Senators that because the bill will raise the price of motor fuels, it will be almost impossible to finance a long-term authorization bill unless a much larger portion of the APAs revenues are dedicated to the Highway Trust Fund.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Adopt a Safety Culture

(from the April/May 2010 Editor's Note of AsphaltPro Magazine)

While at the National Asphalt Pavement Association’s 55th annual meeting back in January, I sat at a table with a gentleman from the Midwest who is in charge of safety for his company. I didn’t ask him if I could use his name in the magazine, so I’ll paraphrase what we talked about. He stated during our conversation that safety in a company has to become the standard. Well-being has to become a part of the company’s culture. If you can establish a safety culture in your company and with your employees, you have a much better chance of keeping employees safe from harm. You have a much better chance of seeing them take better care of their health. You have a much better chance of keeping insurance costs manageable. It comes down to mindset and culture.

I’ve talked with dozens of safety directors, consultants and OEMs who agree with him. Safety has to be drilled into each employee. When I climbed up on a Cat paver at the Rocky Mountain Asphalt Conference and Exhibition Show in February, I heard Jeff Richmond’s voice in my head telling me, “Maintain three points of contact,” from a Roadtec training school I’d attended more than 10 years ago. Now, I wasn’t out on a paving job. Slipping from the back of the paver on a carpeted tradeshow floor wasn’t going to smash my skull against a milled, hard surface. But the safety lesson was in my brain and I heard it the way I’d learned it.

That’s the kind of safety you want “in” your employees. When a member of the ground crew is about to step out of the tool shed at the plant, something in his brain should say, “Am I wearing my PPE? Will the loader operator notice me?” No one should be smoking around equipment or chemicals. No one should let summer heat surprise them with sunstroke or other sickness. No one should step between a dump truck and the paver. These may seem like simple statements, but they’re part of a safety culture that your safety director can orchestrate. Once every employee’s safety mindset increases, accidents, injuries and insurance costs decrease.

Think about insurance for a moment. A construction company without insurance isn’t in business. If your employees are racking up accidents and injuries, your insurance company is going to get nervous. Your premium will rise, if the agency doesn’t cancel the policy outright.

I don’t want to be so callous as to suggest that financial risk is an owner’s big concern when it comes to safety, but it’s one concern you’ve got to consider. Yes, you want employees to return home to their families safe and sound at the end of each shift. You want them healthy and happy and eager to be part of your team. But you also want them working toward lower overhead costs. Insurance is a pretty big line item when it comes to overhead costs.

April 19 through 23 is National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week. Visit the Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse for more information and special events you can host to increase your workers’ safety awareness.

As you’ll see throughout the pages of this special safety issue of AsphaltPro, your magazine staff takes all angles of the concept seriously. From programs for the asphalt professional to simple devices contractors can use to keep workers and motorists safe, we’ve gathered information pertinent to a sound safety mindset. Please review not just this issue, but every Safety Spotlight department in every issue of AsphaltPro for tips and advice from the industry professionals who deal with safety every day. Our hope is that accidents, injuries and fatalities can be prevented when we all adopt a safety culture.

Stay Safe
Sandy Lender, Editor

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Avoid Accidents, Injuries at the Plant

Back to basics tips take the challenge out of battening down the HMA and quarry sites for safety directors
by Sandy Lender, Editor AsphaltPro Magazine

As dusk drapes a heavy fog over the landscape, and stockpiles take on the form of hills and mountains, savvy plant personnel snap on additional lighting for personal protection. An object that looks like a skid steer loader burdened with material for the current mix slips into shadow at a certain time of day and becomes a trick of the eye.

Did the ground man hear that right? Is the loader coming up behind him? Or is the night air playing tricks with the echo off the new RAP bins? Can the loader operator see him?

Such worrisome situations don’t happen only as daylight is waning. When the sun is angled just right and summer temperatures are high, a man stops to mop his brow and a haul truck driver unfamiliar with your quarry site layout turns a corner too quickly. The worker standing in the yard with his hard hat in hand is in a danger zone. The sun blinds the driver. The worker jumps. Is he fast enough? Does the driver ever see him?

The chances for accident or injury abound at an asphalt plant or quarry site. Human beings with human failings work around large, heavy, moving equipment with large, heavy, moving parts. Accidents can happen on regular days when everything seems to be working smoothly.

Luckily, company officials hire safety directors to put health and welfare first and foremost in employees’ minds. Associations, departments of transportation and other groups research best practices and put together manuals, seminars, workshops and safety sheets to help train employees for clean and healthy work environments. The manufacturers of the equipment that asphalt professionals work around have tips and advice to help workers stay safe.

It’s that sense of caring for each other that George Moody, safety manager for Astec, Inc., Chattanooga, shared in his points for readers. One of the methods he promotes for keeping workers safe is keeping them in touch with each other. “Look out for others,” he provided. “Always use machine guards when you are working on or repairing equipment. If you need to step away from the machine, lock it out and tag it out.”

In Moody’s information, he suggested that it’s all right to let a supervisor know if a co-worker routinely does something unsafe. This falls under looking out for your colleagues. “If you see co-workers doing something unsafe, let them know. If they continue to work unsafely, talk to your supervisor. They are putting themselves, and others, in jeopardy.”

A good safety program will include a chain of command or hierarchy for protecting workers, and a way to reward those who have the good sense to speak up when dangerous practices are afoot. Owners aren’t promoting “backstabbing” or “tattling” in such a program; instead, they are promoting a safety culture where workers watch out for and respect each other. If a colleague doesn’t respect himself or a fellow co-worker enough to stop dangerous behavior, he will have to follow the direction of a superior.

This comes down to understanding and following the rules of a safety program. As Moody pointed out, “Understand the safety policies for your workplace. When it comes to workplace equipment, be sure you know how to properly operate it. Read your manual and understand the machine’s capabilities and its hazards; follow preventive maintenance guidelines. Remember, shortcuts aren’t worth the risk.”

Dennis Hunt of Gencor Industries, Orlando, Fla., reiterated Moody’s feelings. “Think,” Hunt said. “Stop and think before you do anything at the plant. Especially when there is break down. Don’t rush to fix the plant and put yourself or others at risk. You can never explain away an accident, injury or fatality by saying ‘I cut corners to get the plant running.’”

A good place to start with hot mix asphalt (HMA) plant safety is to know where your employees are. Jeff Meeker of Meeker Equipment, Lansdale, Pa., suggested owners have a sign-in/sign-out sheet that shows plant operators and managers who is on the site and when. If someone hasn’t been seen or heard from in a while, it’s a good idea to contact him or her by radio to make sure all is well.

Thus having a good communication system is integral to safety. And as Meeker pointed out, good communication systems contribute to a safe atmosphere at all times.

“Carry handheld radios or install hands-free intercoms in multiple locations on the plant,” Meeker said. “Radios allow for good communication between operators and ground personnel. Intercoms allow operators to communicate with other plant personnel in a hands-free mode when troubleshooting.”

Not all personnel will enter the quarry or plant with a walkie talkie in hand. Once a newcomer comes to the site, he or she needs to know where to go. Owners need another form of communication for them. Meeker reminded owners to post clear signage around the grounds for truck drivers and other visitors.

“Let drivers know where to place orders, where to get loaded, and the truck pattern for leaving and entering the site,” Meeker said.

Something that will go a long way toward communicating with personnel—both newcomers and regular employees—is sound. Meeker recommends owners use a plant start-up siren and/or start-up lights to signal the commencement of production. This is a sure sign that movement will begin, fires will start burning, the drum will start turning, etc.

“Start up sirens allow plant personnel, truck drivers, and others around the plant to know that the plant is about to start,” Meeker said. “This gives them time to move away to a safe place prior to the plant starting.”
When it comes to safety around the plant site, Gencor’s Hunt suggested starting with the senses. Rely upon your senses to stay in tune with what’s going on around you.

“Look around you before you do anything at an asphalt plant,” Hunt said. “Look where you are walking, standing or climbing. Be aware of your surroundings. There is constant motion of machinery and equipment at a plant site. Watch out for trucks and loaders; they generally have the right of way.”

Moody added to this with action. Report any hazards that you notice when you’re looking around, whether you think it’s your responsibility or not. It might sound cliché, but safety really is everyone’s responsibility.

“Think you can’t do anything about that dim fluorescent light or that loose railing? Think again,” Moody provided. “By immediately reporting safety hazards, you may save someone…from unintentional injury. If you notice a potential hazard, talk to your supervisor or building maintenance personnel right away.”

The next sense Hunt turned to is sound, telling workers to listen for sounds that aren’t normal or usual for the plant. If something sounds out of place or out of alignment, it probably is, and could pose a threat to someone’s well-being.

Finally, think about the sense of touch. Do you want to come in contact with a burner that’s heating asphalt to 300 degrees F? No way.
“Don’t ever touch moving plant parts,” Hunt warned. “Don’t touch lines, pipes or valves. Assume that everything at an asphalt plant is hot.”

With most surfaces at the plant storing heat, sources advise personnel wear the appropriate clothing for the job—long sleeves, thick gloves, safety glasses, etc. Something every source agreed upon was the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) also want to see plant personnel wearing safety vests, hard hats and the gear typically reserved for the paving crew in the work zone out on the highway.

“Wear safety glasses, hard hats, steel tip shoes, gloves, and bright yellow safety vests,” Meeker said. “There are many things going on at an HMA plant. Trucks are getting loaded. Liquid asphalt and fuel are being off-loaded into tanks. Loaders are filling bins. Aggregates are being delivered to stockpiles. With plant personnel on the plant and around the plant, highly visible clothing and protective covering allows plant personnel to be seen by many.”

Gencor’s Hunt took clothing a step further. “Long sleeve shirts are a must at an asphalt plant,” he said. But he also warned: “Don’t dress the same color as the plant.”

While safety programs should be in place to prevent haul truck drivers and skid steer loader operators from fighting sun blindness, worker fatigue or dusky shadows, the fact of the matter is gray clothing will blend into a gray plant. Light-colored clothing will blend into a light-colored plant. Be aware of your surroundings and try to stand out, both with your PPE and your uniform.

No matter how careful workers are at a facility, accidents and injuries do happen. When the unthinkable occurs, a well-practiced emergency plan can keep a situation from going from bad to worse.

Meeker suggested that owners institute a clearly defined emergency plan. Make sure personnel know the phone numbers for police, ambulance, hospital, etc. Moody recommended owners add evacuation routes and an assembly area to that plan. You want to meet in an agreed-upon area where all personnel can be counted, and accounted for, if a serious accident takes place.

If an accident happens, workers need to know what to do and need to be so comfortable with the plan that they stay level-headed throughout the emergency. With a good safety program and adherence to safety guidelines, the number of accidents at the asphalt plant will hopefully remain low. The goal is to have everyone go home safe and sound at the end of every shift.

Some good sites for safety directors to mine:
AEM Safety Pictorial Database

The Future of America's Roads: Purple Frog or Living Legacy

(This Letter to the Editor appeared in the April/May 2010 issue of AsphaltPro Magazine. If you have an opinion to share, send your correspondence to Editor, Sandy Lender. AsphaltPro staff reserves the right to edit information for clarity, length and accuracy.)

When we use words like preserve, protect or sustain, we inevitably think of something that is endangered. In business, those words can mean something entirely different. Generally speaking, to preserve or sustain a certain level of sales or market share we find ourselves setting the bogey higher than the lowest level we are willing to accept so we can make sure we don’t fall below that projection. Another way of looking at this is that if you’re not busy growing, you’re probably busy dying.

As Congress takes up the debate of the next transportation legislation, I believe we need to look at America’s transportation future with these two perspectives in mind. Next, commit ourselves to learn and understand the words contained in the Oberstar Transportation Bill. Finally, line this up with some good American history so we can influence our representatives as they take up the debate.

While I read the transportation bill, I posted my thoughts in the margins of the large three-ring binder I store it in. I wrote things like, “Washington power grab, anti-road, anti-state, Livability? (get definition), Comprehensive street design policy – what is this?, MPO—Metropolitan planning organization/supplants DOT? – What about DOT’s role?, Suburban – bad; Urban – good, Center for Disease Control?” And, finally, “U.S. Bicycle Route System.”

The 775 page, ~135,000 word transportation bill, like others we have seen “pass” in Congress, reads something like an allegory. The “road” as we know it plays the role of antagonist. The protagonist is big government and The Office of Livability.

But, it’s a transportation bill. Drafted by transportation folk, right? I don’t think so. One day, I thought I came across a cliff notes version of our latest transportation bill when I found a 100-page “Blueprint” for America. It was drafted by a group called Transportation For America.

Transportation For America’s co-chair is Geoff Anderson, who is President and CEO of Smart Growth America. From my understanding, Transportation For America is the main umbrella organization of the Sierra Club. While it’s hard to understand who controls what, you will be able to find out what these organizations stand for by spending a few minutes on their Web sites. After all, their language is the language of the transportation bill.

A quick tour of their Web sites reveals the various elements of their policy. One element is Social Equity, which they define with images of abandoned urban sprawl, and which you’ll find on page 201, line 116 of the Oberstar transportation bill.

Just last week [March 23], Missouri’s leading Senator Kit Bond asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for a definition of Livability. It’s a word used 35 separate times in the transportation bill. LaHood offered the following definition: “Communities where people have access to many different forms of transportation and affordable housing and the ability to really have access to all of the things that are important to them, whether it’s a grocery store, drug store access.”

The Senator responded, “I’ve got a lot of constituents for whom livability means having a decent highway. They’ve got to drive between one town and another town.”

History offers the road to answers. The 1950s and the early 1960s provided great debate about America’s roads, on both sides of the aisle. Invariably, representatives all pointed to the benefits of America’s interstate highway system. Surely if these guys were alive today, they wouldn’t be advocating a transportation bill full of federal bike trails.

On Feb. 28, 1961, President Kennedy, in a special message to Congress regarding the Federal Highway Program, said, “it is a key to the development of more modern and efficient industrial complexes—turning marginal land into attractive sites for commercial or industrial development—and to lower motor transportation costs generally.”

A year later, Kennedy commented on the role of Federal Government and transportation. His emphasis on a balance of use of transportation modes didn’t call for Washington controlling every street and sidewalk in individual states. The authors of the current transportation bill beg to differ.

On the issue of financing, President Eisenhower was in favor of a gas tax increase, but his Congress voted it down. Kennedy faced similar challenges. But both couldn’t be more square on one thing: we should only pay for what we can afford to build.

Proposals run large today for a vast new multi-modal transportation network. Few, if any, contain details as to the funding of such. At least Kennedy and Eisenhower talked about the elephant in the room. But we’re locked and loaded to throw out a $1.75 trillion baby with the bathwater in exchange for a panacea in transportation. Sure, the advocates of this bill will say they are for roads. You’ll have to make them prove it.

Practically speaking, roads drive economics. Bikes don’t.

This past weekend, I had lunch with a friend in the beer business. I asked him how roads affect him. Surprisingly, he sprang to with a story.

Federal law mandates that all beer be “dry docked” at a wholesaler’s location prior to being distributed to the customer. Once the beer hits the dock, it’s the property of the wholesaler. One such wholesaler had cited a specific example of the high percentage of broken bottles (shrink) that they have to bear the cost of because a particular road outside their warehouse is in bad shape. They’re considering re-paving the road themselves. That wholesaler is one of a dozen plus that helps to get product to some 16,000 customers throughout the state of Michigan by truck. That beer has been, is and will continue to be delivered to customers by truck. Not a train. Not a bike.

Yet a few days earlier, The Secretary of Transportation gave a press conference at the National Bike Summit thanking its attendees for being such great advocates of livable communities. He later blogged, “Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.

Does the Secretary mean it? Don’t take my word for it. Oberstar’s bill, page 214, lines 1-6, states “The purpose of the U.S. bicycle route system program shall be to provide for the establishment and support of an interconnected, intercity network of bicycle improve and enhance economic development.”

FHWA now becomes FHW&BRA (Federal Highway and Bike Route Administration). As an aside, they actually do deliver beer by bike in China.

The purple frog is an endangered species. I had no idea. I gather few people do.

Sadly, a similar percentage value our roads—until their usefulness is depleted. Nothing against the purple frog, but when the sun starts setting on America’s roads, we’ll feel the pain. Only those of us in the transportation industry know that then it will be too late. Today, we can do our part to keep our legacy busy growing and not dying.

Grab a copy of your transportation bill. Read it. Highlight it. Ask questions.

Educate yourself. Talk to a supplier about it.

Latch onto some of the many industry efforts to be part of this process. Call your senators. It is ultimately they who will help shape the transportation bill. And yes, while we don’t have all the answers for the questions, neither did Eisenhower or Kennedy. For practical and robust legislation to prevail, you must get involved in a serious way. Otherwise, get ready to call in the sign company to the FHWA.

Dag Seagren

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Fund This

(from the March 2010 Editor's Note in AsphaltPro Magazine)

The Colorado Department of Transportation announced bid deferrals two weeks in a row (as we went to press). The Missouri DOT announced “indefinite” bid delays Feb. 26. An uncertain senator from Kentucky, whom we won’t name or lambaste here, held up flawed but necessary funding extensions Feb. 28. Liquid asphalt prices in most states, as reported on page 48, drifted a little higher…again.

I could list more gloom and doom, but why? We’re all living it. The tireless Jay Hansen, vice president of government affairs for the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), Lanham, Md., provided a quick review of the “condition” of the Highway Trust Fund balance on page 30. It’s not pretty, but do you understand why? Hansen’s no-nonsense style spells it out plainly.

He explained in a side note—which didn’t fit on the page—that state agencies are impotent to move forward with projects that could put contractors to work thanks to funding instability. States have got to have an appropriations bill as well as an authorization bill enacted before they can build or repair federally funded highways. Here’s how it works.

“Before a state transportation department commits to fund a highway project it must be able to assign equal amounts of ‘contract authority’ from an authorization bill and ‘obligation authority’ from an appropriations bill. SAFETEA-LU (or an extension) is an authorization bill that provides states with a budget that can be committed for projects. The actual financing or cash for the projects is determined by Congress through the annual appropriations process. Finally, the Highway Trust Fund Highway Account is the source of funds provided in the appropriations bill.”

The next bill to hold industry’s attention is H.R. 2847. A 10-month band-aid doesn’t let states perform long-term planning, but at least clears the stage for immediate, 2010 construction season projects. As of a late press time, the House had just passed the bill and sent it back to the Senate. What industry members need to do is get on the phone to their representatives to encourage them to get H.R. 2847 in place. These cute little 30-day extensions might keep current work current, but they don’t let states make the necessary plans for real business, for a safe summer or autumn 2010.

A monthly publication like AsphaltPro is great for the how-to information and project stories we provide, but the lead time for monthly deadlines doesn’t let us bring up-to-the-minute updates on legislative action to you. For that, we developed this blog. I encourage you to check out the post titled “Funding Wars” for updates and links to funding information. Don’t forget your opportunity to influence legislation.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender, Editor

Thursday, March 4, 2010

HR 2847 Progress

Today H.R. 2847 passed 217-207 in the House.
It's now been kicked back to the Senate.

Get a nice summary of the bill (again) and an update on its status as of late in the day March 4 at this AASHTO link.

The "Hire Bill" extends funding for 9 months March 17. Story at AASHTO link.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Next Step in Funding

As reported last night in the post titled "Funding Wars" below, H.R. 4691 passed in the Senate, allowing current road projects to resume (among other important issues for Americans). For the transportation construction industry, this gives a mere one-month window of opportunity to work on safeguarding the nation's roadways and economy. It's not enough for planning or future safeguarding. Luckily, representatives will debate something to keep the industry (and motorists) alive through the summer. As reported at AASHTO:

"The House is expected to debate HR 2847, a jobs bill amended last week by the Senate to include a 10-month Highway Trust Fund authorization extension, $19.5 billion in additional General Fund revenue to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent into next year, restoration of highway funding this year to $42 billion from a reduced level of $30 billion, and additional federal support for states and municipalities who want to issue Build America Bonds to finance infrastructure construction."

This is still a short-term fix for a long-term industry and economic question, but it offers at least a stop-gap measure while legislators look for real answers to pay for America's infrastructure requirements.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Funding Wars

As the fight for Federal Highway Funding rages on, AsphaltPro brings you some links worth reviewing. Most of our readers are well-informed on the issue already, so here are the latest updates on what's happening. Follow editor Sandy Lender on Twitter as well. More links will be added as they deserve attention.

First, I'll announce that HR 4691, Temporary Extension Act of 2010, just passed (9:16 p.m. ET) 78 for, 19 against. It looks like inspectors can return to work, thus road projects can resume. Other updates to be posted as the usual pundits post them tomorrow and beyond.

To follow: older posted items that give play-by-play
CQ Politics, A White House play for attention/relevance
AASHTO, More of the same rhetoric with extra gloom-n-doom thrown in
Federal News Radio, Explains the stalemate and furloughs succinctly
AASHTO followup to HR 4691 passage, good introduction of HR 2847
AASHTO's summary of HR 2847's status as of March 4
AASHTO's report of the HIRE Bill's passage March 17

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Monday, March 1, 2010

How to Incorporate Shingle Recycling

This article was originally published in the February 2010 issue of AsphaltPro magazine. To view sidebars, additional information, and other how-to articles from that issue, contact the circulation department to request a free subscription and copy of February at:
2001 Corporate Place
Columbia, MO 65202
(573) 499-1830

By Sandy Lender
Not all European roofs use asphalt shingles, but our colleagues in the Eurobitume association could benefit greatly if they did. Asphalt shingles in Europe contain roughly 40 to 60 percent asphalt content. In the United States, newer shingles contain about 19 to 22 percent asphalt. How can an asphalt professional mine this black gold and use it to his or her benefit? Kent Hansen, the director of engineering for the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), spoke at length about the topic at the 55th annual meeting in Maui, Hawaii. Here are some good ideas he brought up to augment information you’ve found in the pages of AsphaltPro before. Also, please note that NAPA has a new publication titled Guidelines for the Use of Reclaimed Asphalt Shingles in Asphalt Pavements available.

First, bringing state departments of transportation (DOTs) and other agencies up to speed on the benefits of recycled asphalt shingle (RAS) use in asphalt mix design is a battle researchers have already begun. The Energy & Recycling Task Force reported during its Jan. 18 meeting that the NAPA strategic plan’s goal for increased recycled asphalt pavement (RAP) use in 2010 looks much the same as the plan for 2009 but now incorporates the use of RAS. Industry members in Iowa are taking part in a pooled fund study to test the benefits and use of RAS. Other states, mostly in the East, according to Hansen, bring their findings to the table as well. Hansen stated that it takes conversations and cooperation among regulators, DOT officials and contractors to bring good specifications for RAS use into agency documents.

Next, look at the way RAS can enhance your bottom line. As experts have pointed out, there’s a significant amount of asphalt in an asphalt shingle (see sidebar above). While not every state has manufacturers of asphalt shingles, those that do contribute to the approximately 1 million tons of manufacturers’ waste produced annually, according to Hansen. The other source of asphalt shingle material is in tear offs, which producers can find everywhere. That amounts to 10 million tons per year.

When roofing contractors and shingle manufacturers take waste to a landfill, they must pay a tipping fee to leave the waste there. If you can offer them a lower tipping fee, they should be interested in bringing that product to you. But Hansen suggested a variety of factors to consider before going into business collecting trash—even if it’s valuable trash.

Permits and licenses for accepting shingle material vary by state and county. You’ll be required to test for contaminants such as asbestos. While asbestos has been banned from shingle manufacturing since the early 1980s, there are old roofs out there with product that could find its way into your stockpile. There are some mastics and caulking that have trace amounts of asbestos, and you don’t want to accept those into your facility. You need to decide if you’ll accept tear offs with that looming—albeit miniscule—threat. If you choose only to accept manufacturers’ waste, you limit your sources and product availability, but also limit some of the processing worries that we’ll discuss next.

Accepting tear offs opens up your sources and product availability, but also opens up testing and processing challenges. You’ll need to make decisions regarding the condition tear offs must be in when you accept them, and make those conditions clear to suppliers. Will you accept material with flashing and wood attached? Or will you require roofers to remove this excess waste before delivering tear offs? You’ll never get shingles devoid of nails, so be prepared for that element of cleanup in your own facility.

Decide if you’ll restrict supply to only tear offs from private residential homes. This is another way to ensure the shingles you receive are of post-1980s manufacture. You can work with roofers to ensure you get clean material for your operation.

Tear offs must be certified free of hazardous substances and suppliers will arrive with some notice of certification from their testing. This won’t clear you of responsibility. In some states or counties, you’ll need to test the product when it arrives and again at various stages of your operation. For instance, the state of Maryland is reported to have three layers of testing for asbestos once shingles are at the asphalt facility.

It’s wise to pave the area where tear offs will be received and processed on your property, not just for aesthetic reasons, but also to make your job of clean-up easier if a hazardous substance is ever detected. For processing, the first thing to do with shingles is send them through a picking conveyor to remove obvious missed waste. Next is grinding, and the article in the August/September 2009 issue of AsphaltPro refers to a variety of grinding machines available at this time. After grinding, the material goes to a screen or may go back through for grinding again. Next it goes to a mix or a stockpile.

Asphalt shingle surface granules and fill are hard and abrasive on equipment; they wear grinding chamber equipment and create heat. Hansen reminded audience members to balance the amount of water used in cooling equipment. Also be sure you perform grinding in optimal conditions. When ambient conditions are too hot, you risk melting and chunking of material in the equipment.

This leads to thoughts on the stockpiles. As with RAP piles, you want to keep the RAS pile out of direct sunlight if possible to prevent re-agglomeration. An 80/20 blend of sand or RAP in the pile can also help keep re-agglomeration down. Cover the pile to protect it from the weather. When it’s time to make mix, pass the RAS material through a lump breaker or grind it again before feeding it into the plant. The goal is not to grind it further or resize it, but merely to break up any chunks and keep it at its proper size for mixing.

From the testing Hansen reported in January, getting density has proved easier with a RAS mix than expected while providing “a significantly stiffer binder.” Field emission testing has shown SO2 and Formaldehyde “to be non-issues,” although workers reported some odor. There are more tests to do and more to report on, but getting started is the first step. For contractors and producers ready to add RAS to their cost-savings arsenal, the news is good. With the decline in tear offs that contain asbestos, the industry sees another recycled product that can enhance the HMA or WMA mix while keeping waste out of landfills and materials costs under control.

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Save the Dragonflies

(from the February 2010 Editor's Note of AsphaltPro Magazine)

We could talk about funding all day long and keep telling each other the same thing. We need alternative funding methods and we need to keep that message in front of Congress. Jay Hansen will iterate that more eloquently for you in the March issue. Right now, I want to touch on something environmental that sparked my interest recently.


Now, I’ve made it clear to everyone that I’m an environmentalist and a conservationist, as all members of the asphalt industry are. At the recent National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) 55th annual meeting, talk of our environmental excellence brought our good message to light time and time again. We’ll be covering those good messages in the pages of AsphaltPro, as you’ve become accustomed to, throughout 2010. But right now, I want to talk specifically about dragonflies in Illinois.

The folks at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) sent out a note about the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority (ISTHA) discovering a problem with a rare insect—the endangered Hine’s emerald dragonfly. It sounds gorgeous. And expensive.

It cost ISTHA $6 million to build man-made ponds and “rivulets” and little insect condos along a highway in the dragonfly’s habitat. They also made sure a $355-million bridge going up across the Will County’s Keepataw Preserve and Black Partridge Woods in Cook County went up “higher” than usual so cars would be above splatter range, if you catch my drift. This means fewer dragonflies find themselves in conflict with windshields.

Personally, I think $6 million is a hefty price to pay to save an insect species. But I won’t begrudge these bugs their place in our world. If the sea turtles needed $6 million, I’d be the first in line to help raise the funds. So I’ll raise my glass to the folks in the ISTHA who came up with the plan to build little homes for the dragonflies and ponds for their better breeding practices. How else do you save a species but by encouraging good breeding, right?

I’m one of those crazy people who frets over the animals when the weather does something unexpected. I let a lizard come live in my house when the weather dipped into the 30s and 40s here in Florida in early January. (I might have fed him a non-endangered species of fly if one had been available.) So, yes, I feel sympathy for dragonflies that teeter on the edge of extinction, and applaud the agency workers who came up with a solution that protected the dragonflies while keeping commerce, economy and American motorists moving.

It’s something asphalt contractors and department of transportation engineers have to throw in the design plans once in a while—making special accommodations for animals in the area or for habitats “downstream.” It’s environmentally responsible. It’s the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s expensive. However it’s worked out, there are members of the industry like me who applaud you for protecting the parts and pieces of our world on one level while protecting the motoring public on another.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender, Editor
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes in Funding

(from the January 2010 Editor's note in AsphaltPro Magazine)

Please allow me to plagiarize for just a moment from the fabulous David Bowie.

(Turn and face the strain)
Oh, look out you rock 'n rollers

My digression into 1970’s glam rock can be explained by the changes around us. Nearly everyone you talk to is making resolutions about turning over a new leaf. It’s an exciting time for renewal and new starts.

The big change on everyone’s mind in our industry is the funding Congress will bless us with through a set of bills passed in mid-December. The first—House Joint Resolution 64, which extends Defense Department appropriations and surface transportation authorization for about a week to keep projects and the economy from grinding to a sudden and frightening halt—will be a faded memory by the time this issue mails.

HR 3326 is up next. It’s a good stop-gap measure that keeps projects running and workers employed while Congress works toward something more permanent for jobs and the economy. This is the Defense appropriations bill and it extends the surface transportation authorization until Feb. 28.

By that time, HR 2847 should have kicked in. That’s the jobs bill and it’s set until Sept. 30. I’m convinced industry will remain vigilant in lobbying Congress to put a more permanent, reliably-funded transportation plan in place before the September deadline rolls around.

The jobs bill—HR 2847—is the one to keep track of. AASHTO reports that the jobs bill will give industry $53.3 billion for use in fiscal year 2010 for SAFETEA-LU programs in the areas of highways ($41.546 billion), highway safety ($729 million), motor carrier safety ($550 million) and mass transit ($10.508 billion). It will also help out the Highway Trust Fund by 1) putting $19.5 billion into the fund ($14.7 for the highway account and $4.8 for the mass transit account) and 2) changing federal law to allow the fund to collect interest in the future. According to AASHTO, the Transportation & Infrastructure committee says that gain of interest could mean a gain of between $500 million and $1 billion per year. That seems like a pretty big gap in projections, but this is all conjecture right now based on fuel taxes. Remember that when fuel prices rise consumers curb their driving habits. And that takes me back to the idea of lobbying for a more permanent, reliably-funded transportation plan.

There’s more money in HR 2847 earmarked for extra job creation. Also, an important note that AASHTO pointed out about this bill is a provision for states: the bill waives state matching requirements for federal surface transportation grants for the remainder of FY2009. That means states having a tough time making the budget have a bit of grace coming.

Plenty of good changes keep us on our toes this winter season. It’s not just Congress that’s got our industry’s economic future in mind. Equipment manufacturers are pitching new technology at the upcoming World of Asphalt. This publication is making new strides with editorial content and a new Web site to bring not just equipment and technology changes to you, but also to bring new practices and safer work methods to you.

Not all change is scary. We welcome you to write to us here at AsphaltPro and let us know what changes are taking place in your neck of the woods. Let us know how we can help you adapt to those changes. Contact the editor.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender, Editor

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