Comfort with composites isn’t the only barrier: The longstanding problem of cost often presents hurdles, too. “Price is the number one issue,” says Scott Reeve, president of Composite Advantage, a Dayton, Ohio, manufacturer of prefabricated FRP products for infrastructure. “The only way we sell against traditional materials is when we’re offering some immediate value. It’s got to be a situation that requires lightweight materials or accelerated construction.”
Bridge decks are Composite Advantage’s main—and most visible—product line. The company is currently working on four installations, including an 11,000-square-foot pedestrian bridge in Washington, D.C. The city is creating parks with biking and hiking trails on both sides of the Anacostia River. Composite Advantage is supplying decks for pedestrian bridges that cross over railroad tracks in two spots. One bridge will be installed this summer and another in 2012. Because the bridges use the same design and the panels are replicated, the cost of the project was reduced.
Other features of composites attracted the city and the contractor. The lightweight deck meant they could use a lower cost substructure. In addition, the deck features built-in curbs, scuppers for water drainage and junction boxes for electrical systems.
Composite Advantage has overcome objections to higher upfront costs of composites by focusing on a handful of projects like the one in Washington, D.C. “Whether it’s bridges or utility poles or other composite applications out there, we find one or two situations where we can make a difference and sell into that,” says Reeve.
But finding those projects takes time and patience, particularly in a sluggish economy. “Infrastructure repairs have suffered—along with everything else—during the down economy,” says Richards. “Funding is a key issue.”
Bolstering the Transportation Bill
Funding is also pivotal in governmental policymaking that affects the transportation infrastructure industry. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users(SAFETEA-LU), which had guaranteed funding for highways, highway safety, and public transportation totaling $244.1 billion, expired in 2009. Congress has passed a bill to extend SAFETEA-LU until September 30, 2011. However, the uncertainty of the transportation bill has affected the industry.
“All construction related to transportation infrastructure is nearly at a halt,” says John Busel, director of the American Composites Manufacturers Association’s Composites Growth Initiative (ACMA-CGI.) “The state DOTs don’t know where the funds are going to come from to build any project, whether it’s steel, concrete, composites or other materials.”
Part of the delay in passing a new transportation bill, says Busel, is finding the funds to support it. Currently, monies are generated from the gas tax. But the federal portion has stood at only 17 cents for decades. And with more fuel-efficient cars on the road, less taxes are being collected.