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 facilities...to 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

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