ROARING SPRING - The huge trucks rumbling through New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co.'s Roaring Spring plant carrying stone and concrete to area highway and bridge projects on Wednesday belied the present state of the nation's transportation system.
More than 3,000 New Enterprise employees continue to work, build and rebuild highways in Pennsylvania and throughout the East. But company officials, representatives of the U.S. and Blair County chambers of commerce and U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, who gathered at the plant, said all is not well in the transportation business.
New Enterprise President Don Detwiler said Pennsylvania used 24 percent less asphalt in 2011 than the year before. This year, he said, the need for asphalt is down 14 percent.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Gene Heider (left) and Marl Clark Jr. from New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. Inc. power wash a curing agent off the sides of
a concrete parapet of a bridge before linseed oil can be applied to the structure on old Route 220 in Claysburg.
Big jobs are few and far between, said Detwiler, who has been a leader in the road construction business for decades.
The need to upgrade the highways and bridges is "overwhelming," he said, pointing to nearby Route 36 as an example.
New Enterprise hosted about 80 employees, chamber members and Shuster to tout the passage of a federal transportation bill for the first time in three years and to emphasize that the bill to fund transportation nationwide during the next two years is only a first step.
Shuster and U.S. Chamber of Commerce representative Alex Herrgott from Washington, D.C., spoke to the crowd, many wearing hard hats, while standing on a Smith Transport Inc. flatbed inside the New Enterprise garage.
As a member of the House Transportation Committee, Shuster helped to guide the new transportation bill, known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), to President Obama's desk in July. He said a revitalized transportation system is necessary for America to stay economically competitive in the world economy.
"Government has to create an environment for private enterprise to create jobs. Government doesn't create jobs," Shuster said.
He gave an example, citing the production of machinery by Caterpillar Inc., which is located in the Midwest. It needs a good transportation system to carry construction machinery to port for shipment to world markets, he said.
Thirty-five percent of the goods in the nation go through Chicago. A clogged transportation system means delays and additional cost, Shuster said.
The new transportation bill provides $105 billion in transportation funding, Shuster said, and it gets the system back on track after three years of stopgap funding. He said the next two years will be spent attempting to cobble together a consensus on ways to fund transportation in the future.
The present federal and state taxes on gasoline are not enough.
Shuster, who said he "has the intention to be the next chairman" of the House Transportation Committee, said there is talk of using proceeds from off-shore drilling as a new source of revenue. He talked about public-private partnerships to repair and build new roads as one answer, and he suggested tolling may be appropriate to raise funds in some instances.
He is calling for a grassroots movement, from organizations like the chamber, to bring about new revenue sources.
Herrgott said the MAP-21 legislation not only provides stable funding for transportation for the next two years, but it also strives to reduce the time to construct a major highway project from 15 to seven or eight years.
Joe Hurd, president and CEO of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce, said his organization supports efforts to provide more money for projects.
He said the chamber wants the government, particularly Pennsylvania, to be more aggressive in funding infrastructure.
"The highways and bridges are in bad shape. ... Nobody seems to want to pull the trigger on legislation to even get the process reasonably started," said Hurd.
The U.S. Chamber presented Shuster with the "Spirit of Enterprise Award" for his work on transportation during the event.