Road Builders Compete For Slice Of Stimulus

With the $800 billion-plus stimulus bill coming up for debate in the Senate on Monday, all over Washington, lobbyists are making their own pitches for why bigger investments and tax breaks are best spent on their industry. As groups compete to defend their parochial interests, they sometimes find themselves pitted against others in their own industry.

In the case of the construction industry, their arguments can get downright granular.

"The virtue of asphalt is that it's quicker to put down," says Jay Hansen, vice president of government affairs for the National Asphalt Pavement Association. It's better for patching up holes, it's cheaper and it's quicker to dispatch, he says.

You want green jobs? Hansen says his industry has them. There are some 300,000 asphalt-related workers in the country — and their work is environmentally friendly, he says. "The rock and the liquid asphalt — it goes right back down. It doesn't end up in landfills. It's completely renewable."

But Hansen is up against the lobbying efforts of Tom Carter. Carter is senior vice president of government affairs for the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association and is singing the virtues of his materials in the halls of Congress.

Concrete, he tells lawmakers, is the greener material.

"There was a study done in Atlanta that estimated that replacing all the dark-colored pavement in the city with light-colored pavement would reduce ambient summer temperatures by 7 degrees," Carter says.

Roads paved with concrete are harder and so cars get better gas mileage, compared with asphalt, he says. Concrete structures last decades, and insulate — making them a better investment, Carter adds.

A Boost To Business

But, regardless of how it is apportioned, the $80 billion to $90 billion the stimulus package proposes spending on building and rebuilding infrastructure will most likely help both industries — but not solve all their problems.

Every $1 billion spent on infrastructure will create about 30,000 jobs, according to both the concrete and the asphalt lobbying groups. Economists also agree such spending will pump some money in the form of material, equipment and consumer spending into the broader economy.

Backlog Of Projects

But after 2 1/2 decades of diminished spending on infrastructure, there's a massive backlog of thousands of projects in each state, says Robert Frank, a visiting professor at New York University's Stern School of Business.

"Just in the last decade, there's been an almost total freeze on maintaining and improving our infrastructure, so we're just way overdue on spending in that area, anyway," Frank says. The stimulus, while necessary to help jump-start employment in the ailing construction industry, will not significantly reduce the number of projects states and local governments have in the pipeline, he says.

He adds: "Nobody's really addressed the problem of how we pay for an ongoing program of infrastructure upgrading."

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