Vulcan touts concrete for road-building

(NEWBERRY , Florida)— With house and building construction in the tank, the Florida concrete industry is trying to get a share of the asphalt industry’s state highway business — and is seeking legislators’ help to get it.

Industry officials touted the benefits of concrete roads to local legislators in a tour Thursday at Vulcan Materials’ Florida Rock cement plant and limestone mine, saying concrete would provide more local jobs, safer and longer-lasting roads, and be more cost-effective over the roads’ life.

The state’s concrete consumption — mostly from building construction — is down 51 percent since 2005, resulting in a loss of more than 35,000 jobs in the industry and 91,000 jobs indirectly related to concrete, according to the Florida Concrete & Products Association. The total negative effect has meant $1.1 billion less in state taxes.

The effect has been felt locally.

The Newberry plant started an expansion to double its cement output to 1.7 million tons a year at a time when Florida had to import cement from other states, but the expanded part of the plant likely will be dormant as soon as it is ready to go online next year, said Gary Sauer, Vulcan’s vice president of cement.

He said the expansion likely will raise the company’s current $1.5 million property tax bill while producing no new revenue.

Spokesman John English said the company has reduced hours and staffing.

Florida Rock was purchased in 2007 and is now a division of Birmingham, Ala.-based Vulcan Materials.

In the face of rising unemployment, industry officials argued that concrete provides more local jobs than asphalt because all of the raw materials such as limestone are mined at the local level, while asphalt includes foreign oil and, in the northern part of the state, granite mined in other states.

The industry has made inroads in working with the Florida Department of Transportation, but the FDOT is not as familiar with concrete and has been too conservative in designing roads to require too much concrete, making the cost less competitive with asphalt, said Tim Kuebler of Titan America in Deerfield Beach and president-elect of the concrete association.

He said 98 percent of state highways are made with asphalt.

Association President Mike Murtha said the industry is turning to legislators to try to break through the bureaucracy.

FDOT officials had not responded to inquiries for comment by late Thursday.

Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, said he would be interested in having the FDOT price road construction to consider the cost over 20 to 30 years rather than just the cheaper up-front costs of asphalt.

Other legislators on the tour were Speaker of the House Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, Rep. Leonard Bembry, D-Greenville, and Rep. Debbie Boyd, D-Newberry.

The asphalt industry is suffering its own woes, with gas taxes that fund road projects way down.

Federal stimulus legislation is funding about $1 billion in road projects in Florida, but the industry has lost $6 billion to $7 billion in business, and more contractors are bidding for fewer jobs and cutting their bids to bare bones, said Jim Warren, executive director of the Asphalt Contractors Association of Florida.

“They’re trying to sell their product. So are we,” Warren said. “It’s a difficult business right now.”

Warren said there’s a reason the state builds a majority of its roads out of asphalt.

“It works. It’s recyclable. It’s inexpensive in the short term and the long term.”

Ken Kobetsky is director of engineering for the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, which provides research to its state DOT members.

He said advancements in both materials have put asphalt and concrete on equal footing in many ways.

The costs depend on local availability and how far materials have to be shipped, he said.

Concrete requires less maintenance over time but has to be torn up and entirely replaced at the end of its life, while asphalt requires more frequent but also less-disruptive maintenance, he said.

By Anthony Clark


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