The new highway funding bill paves the way to increased composites usage

Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), a highway funding bill signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012, should result in a significant increase in market opportunities for composite highway components such as bridge deck panels, girders and reinforcing bar for concrete bridge decks. This new $118 billion, 27-month piece of legislation comes 1,010 days after the last surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU, expired and will fund programs until September 2014.

The importance of MAP-21 to the industry is that it includes a provision for state and federal Department of Transportation (DOT) officials to assess overall lifecycle cost analysis – but it doesn’t specify the use of composites, which has the potential of being either beneficial or ineffectual for the composites industry. For example, the legislation will require states to establish goals and measures for highway system safety, condition and reliability. Left intact, the bill could result in additional contracts for composites; however if competitive materials should influence the writing of the new standards to eliminate the use of composite components, it could have no effect on future contracts. States will also work toward goals for freight movement and economic viability, environmental sustainability, eliminating delays in project development and delivery, reducing regulatory burdens and improving state agency work practices. Overall, the bill makes significant programmatic reforms by consolidating federal programs in an attempt to make them more competitive and streamlines the environmental review process to speed project delivery. The bill also provides $400 million for transportation research and authorizes 35 competitive grants provided annually for University Transportation Centers.

ACMA and its member companies, organized under the Composites Growth Initiative (CGI) Transportation Structures Council (TSC) and the FRP Rebar Manufacturers Council (FRP-RMC), worked for several years to promote the use of composites as a solution to unreliable and expensive to maintain highway bridges for program decision makers. This included promulgation of standards by national organizations, education of state and federal DOT officials and education of Congressional offices through dedicated flyins on the need to include the lifecycle cost performance of highway structures. Since members of Congress are comfortable with using modern costeffective technology in highway systems, ACMA must now work with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) as they set standards for lifecycle cost assessment (LCCA) and with state DOTs and as they implement those standards.