Shortage Of Road Paint Slows Highway Projects

Michele Norris talks to Brian Deery, senior director of the Highway and Transportation Division of the Associated General Contractors of America, a trade group that represents construction contractors. He talks about why the low supply of a chemical called methyl methacrylate has led to a shortage of traffic paint.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now, a story about a chemical with a very long name that's in very short supply. It's called methyl methacrylate, or MMA, and the fact that it's suddenly scarce matters because it keeps you and your car in your lane. It's the key ingredient in traffic striping paint, those handy white and yellow lines that keep you heading north and that truck heading south from crossing paths.

For more on the shortage, we're joined now by Brian Deery. He's the senior director of the Highway and Transportation Division of the Associated General Contractors of America. That's a trade group that represents construction contractors. Mr. Deery, welcome to the program.

Mr. BRIAN DEERY (Senior Director, Highway and Transportation Division, Associated General Contractors of America): Thank you, Michele. It's a pleasure to be here.

NORRIS: Well, first of all, can you tell us a little bit about methyl methacrylate?

Mr. DEERY: It's a resin product, and it's basically a sticky product. So you mix it with paint, and then they put it down on the roads to, as you pointed out, to stripe the center lines and all other lines that are on the highways.

NORRIS: Why is it in such short supply?

Mr. DEERY: A number of manufacturing plants started to downsize as the economy started to nosedive just a couple years ago. In addition to that, Dow Chemical, they supply about 60 percent of the product, and the plant that produces most of their product had to be shut down for retooling. And it's shut down right now, and it will be for about six months.

NORRIS: So while it's shut down, does that mean that road construction projects across the country are shut down?

Mr. DEERY: It will certainly have an impact on the opening of some of those projects, that the shortage is significant. In addition to this product, there's another product, it's a titanium product. And the titanium is actually mixed in with the white paint, and it's what gives it its reflection.

So when you're driving down the road, and you see your headlights reflecting off the lines, that's because of this titanium. There's a shortage of that product, as well. So between the two products, there's about a 60 percent shortage.

NORRIS: So if this plant is closed for some months into the future, what are the alternatives? Could they just use regular paint, and even though it would cost much more money, go back and repaint these road stripes when the MMA and the titanium becomes available?

Mr. DEERY: Yeah, that's one of the things they're looking at. And we haven't determined yet what the supply is of that kind of paint. But as I mentioned, the titanium problems, so the paint that they would be putting down would not have the reflective quality that you really want in a stripe.

But they're also looking at other temporary measures. There's a certain kind of tape that they can put down. They can put raised buttons. They're talking about only striping part of the project. So in other words, they would put down the center stripe and maybe not put down the stripe at the edge of the road. You know, they're looking at this from a safety consideration. They're trying to only shortchange those products that won't have a safety impact.

NORRIS: So did Dow give anyone any notice so you could build up your supplies before they closed down the plant?

Mr. DEERY: Actually, they didn't. It came as quite a surprise to a lot of the suppliers, which really has an impact on construction contractors because they have bid on these projects usually a year ago or in the late fall of last year for projects that are going to start this spring and through the summer and into the fall.

And so, they're faced now with trying to figure out what they're going to do as they come to the end of their projects.

NORRIS: Brian Deery, thanks so much.

Mr. DEERY: Thank you very much, Michele.

NORRIS: Brian Deery is with the Associated General Contractors of America.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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