But Hillman remains optimistic. So do Reeve and Gremel. FRP products can become part of the mainstream in infrastructure. They can take over Main Street.
By MJ Carrabba
In late 2015, Congress approved and President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the long-awaited highway bill. After many years of short-term extensions of federal authorization of new construction of roads and bridges, House and Senate leaders advanced the overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation that funds infrastructure and transit projects through 2020 to the tune of $305 billion.
The legislation includes a significant victory for the composites industry. Under previous legislation, a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) program called the Innovative Bridge Research and Construction program (IBRC) funded the construction of more than 300 bridges throughout the country using innovative materials and technologies. Over half of these bridges featured composite reinforcing components like FRP rebar, deck, girders and more. Between composites and the other innovative materials used in this program, this set of bridges represents arguably the best unified sample of the use of innovative materials in bridge construction.
The performance of these bridges could shed serious light on the technologies that need to be deployed to build the highest quality 21st century infrastructure. However, DOT had failed to do any follow-up examination since the last bridge was installed over a decade ago. ACMA worked closely with leaders in the House and Senate to include language in the FAST Act that directs DOT to contract with the Transportation Research Board to undertake a comprehensive review of the bridges built under the IBRC and assess the performance of innovative materials compared to traditional construction technologies. This authoritative third-party assessment of composite infrastructure components will provide our industry with crucially needed performance data that can help companies compete against steel and other metals.
The legislation also significantly increases the amount of money allocated for road and bridge construction beyond current levels. It achieves funding certainty for five years through a combination of financing mechanisms, including liquidation of over $19 billion from the Federal Reserve’s “rainy day fund.” It also streamlines the environmental review and permitting process, accelerating project approvals but not sacrificing important environmental protections. Another important hallmark is the inclusion of language that substantially increases transparency by requiring the Federal Highway Administration to provide project-level information to Congress on all major federally funded infrastructure projects. The same information must also be made available to the public through a new online database.