CE Industry’s Minutemen Ready for ActionWritten By: Kim Phelan
Article Date: 09-03-2007
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
But from a national perspective, the financial demand is daunting. In the wake of the Minneapolis tragedy, America wakes up to its infrastructure realities and responsibilities.
Responses to catastrophes such as the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis last month occur at many levels, both micro and macro - television and newspaper cameras make sure the public is kept adequately saturated with both private stories of heroics and loss as well as high-level analysis about causes and solutions. At one of the quiet ends of the complex spectrum, however, was one construction equipment dealership's fast and practical reaction within minutes of the disaster on the evening of Aug. 1.
Dave Lillquist, rental manager for light equipment at Ziegler Cat in Minneapolis, had driven across the bridge 15 minutes before it crumbled into the Mississippi River - but when he heard the news he didn't hesitate to take swift and decisive action. Realizing that as darkness neared, illumination amidst the chaos would be key to the rescue activities, Lillquist and his team quickly gathered some 35 light towers and drove them to the scene within 20 minutes of the collapse.
"We knew we had to get a jump on this; we knew they'd have to have light soon," he said. "We hauled two tractor-trailers full of light plants over there without any paperwork."
Elsewhere, others in the construction community rallied with quick support as well. Less than 24 hours after the tragedy, the AGC of Minnesota had contacted some 50 contractor and distributor companies and compiled a list of all available equipment and labor in the area that was ready to be mobilized for service. The list was immediately forwarded to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Governor's office, Minnesota OSHA and the Emergency Command Center in Minneapolis.
Mike Sill, president and owner of Road Machinery & Supplies Co., Savage, Minn., said he submitted a list of long-reach excavators, concrete pulverizers, grapplers and crushing and screening equipment that his company was ready to put to work. Also, he said by Friday the 3rd he had already been contacted by a demolition contractor customer who was preparing to bid on an MDOT clean-up contract.
Meanwhile, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, headed by Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN), authorized emergency aid to the state on Aug. 4 with a bill providing up to $250 million for the bridge's repair and replacement, as well as "to help the Twin Cities cope with the loss of a major transportation artery," a Transportation Committee press release stated.
Bruce Johnson from the rental counter at the Burnsville, Minn., branch of RDO, a Deere/Hitachi dealership, said there won't be a lack of available man or machine power to meet the need.
"Business has been slow up here for contractors, with housing down," Johnson said. "Contractors will be ready to go."
Of course - as the construction industry knows and the public is waking up to - the bad news about bridges runs a rancid flow far beyond Minnesota's state lines. In fact, unsavory trickles of statistics quickly began permeating the media days after the I-35 bridge incident. Among the most notable, TRIP reports that 26 percent of bridges are "structurally deficient or functionally obsolete." In addition, more than 2,000 bridges on the interstates highway system are in need of an overhaul, according to Frank Moretti, TRIP's director of research.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates the price tag on backlogged, unfunded infrastructure repair and improvement work at $495 billion. In 2000, the highway trust fund, which garners most of its revenues from a federal gas and diesel tax, had a balance of nearly $23 billion. But in 2006 that number had shrunk to $6 billion, according to an MSNBC.com report. By 2009, the year Congress will be required to reauthorize SAFETEA-LU (the federal government's long-term surface transportation program), the fund will be $1.7 billion in the red, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And the deficit will be $8.1 billion by 2010.
The American Society of Civil Engineers says that repairing all 70,000 of the nation's structurally deficient bridges would require spending at least $9.4 billion a year for 20 years.
In mid-August, President Bush rejected a Transportation Committee proposal of a 5-cent increase to the 18.3-cents-a gallon gas tax, which Chairman Oberstar said would raise about $25 billion over three years.
For updates on how AED's Government Affairs Office in Washington is working to keep infrastructure spending at necessary levels, visit www.aedaction.org. For infrastructure legislation information, visit www.transportation.house.gov.
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