Friday, February 18, 2011

What Comes After CONEXPO?

(From the February 2011 editor's note in The AsphaltPro Magazine)

This issue of The AsphaltPro Magazine is dedicated to two things: technology and CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2011. I’ve noticed that, similar to the turn of a new century, winding up to CONEXPO sends the construction industry into a sort of burst of technological advancement. There’s more on that concept in this issue’s technology roundup article “Automate Your Production Control” on page 18, so I’d like to concentrate on the “event” side of things here.

With technology and automation comes the promise of doing things more efficiently, more quickly, with better quality, with better control, with precision and with confidence. Whether it’s mixing asphalt at the plant, loading it safely from the silo, tracking it by the minute from Point A to Point Z, or placing it at the perfect depth and rolling it to the perfect density, there’s an app for that. What I wonder is will there be a need for that?

What are we going to do after the excitement of CONEXPO dies down and we all stare at the messes in our research & development departments. Technology has been on everyone’s collective mind as we rush toward the deadline of March 22—and much earlier if you’re shipping the final product out to a stand in Vegas.

Drayage invoices and credit card statements make for a financial hangover that puts corporate bosses in a foul mood. They don’t feel so technologically-motivated after CONEXPO, do they? Who carries the load then? Who’s going to come up with the next great idea that provides a super funding idea for the transportation construction industry?

Ah, yes. After CONEXPO, we still have to fight for our right to support the nation. The President’s State of the Union address Jan. 25 suggested he’s all for taking care of our crumbling infrastructure. He’s all about getting people back to work fixing our roads, bridges and transportation network.

The problem is he’s got this grand idea that we can do all that and build a bunch of high-speed trains that few people are interested in while Congress is going behind our backs with secret ballots to appropriate federal highway funds for whatever special need they come up with. AEM’s Dennis Slater and AASHTO’s John Horsley can get up the morning after such a speech and say they’ll hold the President accountable for his promises (and they did), but who in this country believes that man can get anything besides stump speeches done in the next two years?

It’s Congress we have to appeal to.

It’s Congress we have to write to.

It’s Congress that has to create a reliable highway bill this spring.

It’s Congress that has to pass a strong, fully funded highway bill that contains provisions that keep special interest groups—such as Congress—from undercutting the Highway Trust Fund on a whim.

It’s Congress that we have to get in touch with and get in touch with right now.

You all saw the timeline Jay Hansen outlined in this magazine in December. Get on the ball! The President releases his budget in early February, about the time this magazine hits the streets. By the time dandelions start blooming in the cracks in your concrete sidewalks, Congress needs to have a transportation authorization bill drafted. That’s not a lot of time for members of this job-creating force of ours to get ideas in front of the drafters.

Have you informed your representatives of just how important it is to improve roads and highways? As sad as it sounds, you also have to inform them of how important it is to guarantee funding for improving those roads and highways so your state can make long-term, realistic, efficient plans. Stop-gap measures don’t cut it anymore. This is where we put technology and intelligence to work.

I asked you what we do after CONEXPO. We can’t wait until after CONEXPO. You and I have to pick up the phone today. After CONEXPO, what does all our fancy technology matter?

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender (sandy at theasphaltpro dot com)
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Let's Sue Someone in 2011

(from the January 2011 editor's note in The AsphaltPro Magazine)

A new year always rings in with people asking what your New Year’s Resolution will be. I find that irritating 99 percent of the time. As a magazine editor, I have goals and deadlines every day of my life. As a member of the asphalt industry, I have additional goals that involve legislation and letters to city planners. Why would I add more? One of the goals I’d like to specify this January is to talk less about this obnoxious funding issue we’ve been facing the past few years. Aren’t you sick of it? Aren’t you ready for a big ol’ lawsuit to put it to rest?

Think about it.

Roads need to be fixed. The entities that own the roads must be responsible for fixing them or the motorists getting injured are going to sue the pants off those entities. (Pardon my glibness; it’s a function of my frustration with the subject.) I have to believe that once the first multi-million dollar lawsuit hits the courts for a federally-funded highway that didn’t get federally fixed because Congress couldn’t gets its collective act together on funding, we’ll see faster action. What’s the saying? It takes money to make money. For our purposes, I think it takes a discussion of loss of money to make money.

Perhaps that’s cynical, but it’s better than sending zombies from the concrete industry’s ill-planned pollutant-reactions to frighten our representatives into passing meaningful legislation. (See last month’s editorial column.)

I mean, the House did vote in a landslide 212 to 206 victory to approve H.R. 3082 back on Dec. 8, which would have continued appropriations for all of FY11. That means all federal government operations, including federal surface transportation and aviation programs, would get extended authorization through Sept. 30. Status quo, people. Status quo. That should be good enough for government work. Then the Senate stepped in and said, “wait, we’d like to add these 7,000 special items right here.” Enter government progress, right?

So we ended up with more hashing and re-hashing of the same old argument about spending and money and funding and earmarks. In the end, the continuing resolution will only carry our working government through March 4. Name one state DOT that can plan with that.

James Oberstar, ousted rep from Minnesota, got up Dec. 8 to say he’d rather we were voting to approve an adequate transportation bill that funds a real highway plan. Amen, Brother! As stated on the website, Oberstar stated that H.R. 3082:

• rescinds all remaining highway earmarks designated in the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987 (STURAA) (P.L. 100-17);

• rescinds all remaining highway earmarks designated in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) (P.L. 102-240);

• rescinds all highway projects designated in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) (P.L. 105-178) that have not obligated at least 10 percent of the funds authorized for the project; and

• rescinds all High Priority Project program funds authorized by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) (P.L. 109-59) that were not designated for use on a specific project.

What’s left? Apparently, we have $42.3 billion for federal-aid highway programs and $10.5 billion for federal transit programs. I think we’re all aware that that’s not enough to maintain the current system, let alone allow DOTs to plan ahead for serious maintenance projects or congestion-relief projects down the line.

It looks like 2011 is going to be another spot-check kind of year for industry. I encourage you to call on your Congressmen about funding, but I’m sick and tired of harping on it. I don’t want to spend the next nine months of FY11 haranguing readers to do what should have been done two years ago. This industry needed a long-term authorization plan, and a reliable system to pay for it, long before H.R. 3082 rescinded items and offered meager droppings from Congress’s table. If you’ve not already made the decision to participate in this May’s legislative fly-in to discuss this with your representatives, I can’t imagine a few sarcastic comments in my frustrated editorial column will convince you that you need to add it to your calendar.

Maybe you need to fall back to Plan B: Find someone who’s already had an accident or lost a loved one on a deteriorated federal roadway. Convince them to sue the pants off one of those Congressmen.

Let’s get to work.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender (sandy at theasphaltpro dot com)
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Friday, February 11, 2011

New Concrete Additive Triggers Zombie Apocalypse

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

"It’s just interesting to theorize about the displacement of decomposed pollutant products from a chemical reaction within a concrete pavement." -Sandy Lender, AsphaltPro Editor

This is an editorial column, so I hope everyone sees this use of dramatic license as humorous. I guess I could have saved it for April 1st but this is the fourth annual State of the Industry issue of AsphaltPro and we should discuss what the competition is up to. Apparently, the Portland Cement Association (PCA) as a collective is preparing to release toxic decomposed organic compounds into the air and groundwater of densely populated communities as the association’s pavements erode, crack and fail during the next decade, slowly turning us into the walking dead.

By the time PCA officials complete this insidious plan, all DOT engineers will have been brainwashed into believing they helped the environment, when in fact they sped society’s eventual collapse by bringing about a zombie apocalypse. I wonder if anyone at MoDOT suspects they’re spurring the end of civilized society in the United States. See the fact-oriented, related article on page 24 and note the integrity of MoDOT to cooperate with AsphaltPro to get information to you about the Ladue Road/photocatalytic concrete project. My hat’s off to the gentlemen there for helping me present just the facts.

As most zombie-causing infectious diseases do, the concept of smog-eating concrete starts with intelligent science. Researchers in Europe have put Titanium dioxide (TiO2) in concrete. This ultra white pigment makes the concrete very pretty.

TiO2 also causes a chemical reaction within the concrete when exposed to ultraviolet light. Here’s where the zombie movie picks up speed and audience members lean forward in their seats.

The chemical reaction takes place between ultra-ickies from the air (like dirt, soot, mold, etcetera) and the TiO2. The “bad” reactants break down—decompose—but the TiO2 is supposed to remain unharmed and ready for more pollutants from the air to settle on the pavement and get caught in its wily web.

To be honest, that’s pretty cool. But where do the products of the chemical reaction within the pavement go? According to Italian research (Ground Zero in zombie apocalypse terms), the concrete matrix traps the decomposed toxins.

Once again, that’s pretty cool. But there’s a catch. We all know concrete spawls. We all know concrete fails. We all know concrete has those obnoxious bumps every few yards where water gets in and causes the rebar to rust and expand and send cracks up to the surface. We all know concrete has to be “fixed.” As the concrete fails, the decomposed pollutants do what? And, of course, some products of the chemical reaction, by the photocatalytic concrete pavement’s design, wash down and away.

I theorize that these decomposed pollutants escape into the ground water (by design) and into the air (through pavement failures) on a regular basis and en masse during a pavement’s reconstruction. This is the part of the movie where somebody on-screen breathes too deeply, convulses and starts eating his fellow construction worker’s brain. Someone in the audience screams and tosses popcorn. The camera pans to a bloodied hard hat on the ground.

Of course this whole editorial column is designed to be a bit corny. No zombies will rise up from the use of photocatalytic concrete pavements. It’s just interesting to theorize about the displacement of decomposed pollutant products from a chemical reaction within a concrete pavement. If smog suddenly defies its natural tendency to float skyward, that is. I mean…does it settle onto pavements? There’s a funneling trick I’d like to see.

I’m off to buy an industrial-strength can opener and more ammo for just in case! In the meantime, I wish you all a lovely holiday season devoid of monsters and filled with family and friends. May you have a peaceful and prosperous 2011.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender, Editor (sandy @ theasphaltpro dot com)
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Have You Renewed?

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

Funny. This note is NOT about recycling (or this month’s automation and technology theme). This note is about subscribing. Let me give you a short story that’s directly related to my point.

In my non-asphalt life, I write fiction. One of the most prominent magazines in my second career is called Realms of Fantasy (ROF). That magazine went under a couple years ago and a great outcry from the fantasy fiction community was heard around the world. A new publisher took up the reins immediately, and ROF had new life. They depend on both subscriptions and advertising to pay the bills. It has ample advertising support, but far too many readers believe it’s still defunct. The editorial board provided an awesome review of my second novel in their June 2010 issue, but I wonder how many readers saw it. They need more subscribers to sign up for the magazine.

Now let’s apply that story to the print version of your asphalt industry resource. AsphaltPro is advertiser-supported, so we get to mail it to you free of charge if you reside in the United States, Canada or Mexico. Overseas subscriptions are another ballgame, but we still get it to you.

The thing is, we have a similar concern to ROF. We need subscribers to fill out a subscription card (found in every issue of AsphaltPro) to receive the magazine so we can prove to our advertisers that folks out there know we exist and read our pages.

You and I know readers are paying attention to AsphaltPro content. You call me on the phone. You send me notes—both e-mail and snail mail. You grab my arm at tradeshows and annual meetings to tell me about something you read in the magazine that you used at the plant or in the lab or on the paving site (such as the IC or plant controls articles in this month’s automation and technology issue).

Folks, that stuff makes my day!

But marketing reps can’t convince their bosses to advertise in a magazine based on the editor sharing anecdotes. We have to prove that you’ve sent in a signed subscription card. Gone are the days when people merely trust each other.

Isn’t that a shame?

If you enjoy AsphaltPro, fill out the subscription card in this magazine and send it back to us with your signature on it so we have it on file. If you have to share your issue of AsphaltPro with someone else in your company, fill out the card in this magazine to get your own copy. Maybe you want a lab tech or maintenance crew member in your company to get a copy; fill out the form for him or her. AsphaltPro makes an inexpensive Christmas present. (Although you probably ought to get him or her a Hickory Farms basket, too.)

If someone has already used the card in this issue, visit our website at and click on the “Subscribe Now” link to fill out the form online. We’ll set you up with your own free subscription and we’ll be able to prove to the world what you and I already know.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender, Editor (sandy @ theasphaltpro dot com)
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