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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