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GMA News | February 1, 2020 | By:

Letter from the chair

As I sat down to write this update of all the great things GMA has been doing, my computer screen interrupted me with an email, and now I type with a heavy heart as the email announced the passing of Robert M. Koerner. I had the privilege of knowing Bob for the last 38 years as we watched our industry grow from hoping to sell a single roll of geotextile to expecting to ship multiple truckloads each day. In 2017 at the Geosynthetics Conference, GMA established the Robert M. Koerner Award and Lecture Series. I was honored at that time to assist in Bob’s introduction during which I related Bob’s contributions to the industry with three words: Visionary, Leader and Solid. His vision in 1986, led him to write the first edition of Designing with Geosynthetics, which is now in its sixth edition, a two-volume set. His leadership brought 23 companies together in 1986 to help him form the Geosynthetic Research Institute (GRI) and continued to grow that cooperation to more than 60 companies now helping to fund the Geosynthetics Institute (GSI), the leading source for information and education in our industry. Throughout the growth, Bob was the steadfast icon that the industry could always rely on to be open and honest for any and all questions (I know personally that I called many times), remaining as solid as the subgrades and foundations that we try to create using our varied solutions. Bob will be missed, George Koerner will continue GSI/GRI, and, in Bob’s honor, we should strive to cooperate to grow the industry.

Fred C. Chuck, P.E.

GMA news for Fall 2019

Fall 2019 was a busy time for GMA, starting with quarterly meetings with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the National Transportation Product Evaluation Program (NTPEP) and the Virginia Department of Transportation; the repeal of a century-old restrictive ruling; state and local visits to Rhode Island and Massachusetts; the 4th Koerner Lecture presentation; and culminating in a D.C. Lobby Day that Keith Gardner, past chair of the Executive Council, termed “Nothing short of a grand slam” (our meetings were being held during the World Series). And as we prepare for the winter rush of events and presentations in the early part of 2020, including TRB, NY DEQ-sponsored 4th Waste Containment seminar in conjunction with our Geomembrane Focus Group, IECA, Geosynthetics Conference 2020: CASE STUDIES, GeoAmericas 2020 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, among others, there is still work to be done this fall as evidenced by the Interlayer Task Force meeting with the Indiana Department of Transportation in December.

Ohio River Valley Soils Seminar 

Dr. Barry Christopher, the 2018 Koerner Award and Lecture Series recipient, presented his Koerner Lecture at the 50th annual Ohio River Valley Soils Seminar in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 13, 2019. His presentation, “Development of Geosynthetics 1970–2019,” was a summary version of the presentation given at the Geosynthetics Conference 2019 in Houston, Texas. From his executive summary: “Geosynthetics have revolutionized geotechnical practice over the past 50 years including early use in more effective erosion control and haul road construction leading to significant impacts in roadway construction, filtration design, ground improvement for construction of embankments over soft soil, reinforced soil slopes, mechanically stabilized earth walls, and geo-environmental applications such as pond liners and waste containment systems. This presentation will include early work in geosynthetic design, laboratory test development to provide design input parameters, and research to confirm performance of these innovative materials. Both successes and failures will be reviewed, as we often learn more from failures than we do from successes. The significant impact that these materials have had in improving the state of the practice will be highlighted along with advancements anticipated over the next 10 years.”

AASHTO’s COMP TS-4e Committee on Geosynthetics and NTPEP

Our relationship with TS-4e and NTPEP has grown to the point of being asked to review any modifications or revisions they are considering for M288. This fall both our Geotextile Focus Group and our Geogrid Focus Group reviewed and commented on revisions/modifications. TS-4e is proposing revising the Class 1A to be included in a new section titled “12. Geosynthetics for Subgrade Stabilization” while NTPEP is revising the REGeo Work Plan.

Repeal of 23 CFR 635.411

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has published an updated federal rule to give states more flexibility and choice in which products or services can be used on federally funded highway projects. The change is intended to improve safety and increase efficiency while saving taxpayer dollars.

“This much-needed update of a century-old, obsolete rule will benefit state transportation infrastructure projects and save millions of taxpayer dollars,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

The rule updates an outdated federal requirement that restricts the ability of states to use patented or proprietary technology in their Federal-aid highway projects.

“This final rule promotes innovation by empowering states to choose which state-of-the-art materials, tools, and products best meet their needs for the construction and upkeep of America’s transportation infrastructure,” said Federal Highway Administrator Nicole R. Nason.

Prior to this change, federal regulations prohibited state contracting agencies from using federal funds to acquire patented or proprietary materials, products, or services, except under certain limited circumstances. GMA worked with several congressional offices and cooperated with the American Road and Transportation Builder’s Association (ARTBA) and other associations to promote the repeal of rule 23 CFR635.411

Advocacy hits a “home run”

On Oct. 28, 2019, the day that the repeal of Rule 23 CFR635.411 became official (there is a 30-day grace period after publication in the Federal Register), the new FHWA Administrator Nicole R. Nason, attended the GMA executive council meeting for an open discussion. In addition to recognizing GMA as a primary contributor to the repeal of Rule 23 CFR635.411, Administrator Nason offered to work with GMA on educating Federal Highway Administration employees in their 52 division offices on geosynthetic solutions. That evening, in addition to our guest speaker, Finch Fulton, the deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation, the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee requested to send two congressmen to attend our dinner. Representatives Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., and Daniel Webster, R-Fla., stopped in to again congratulate GMA on our continued nonpartisan efforts to promote our industry and our success with advocating for the repeal of the CFR rule. GMA has been actively visiting Washington, D.C., for 15 years and in conjunction with Whitmer & Worrall (DC office) have developed relations with congressional offices that started out as an “awareness campaign,” where we had to reintroduce the industry each time we visited, to finding a few “champions” (like Westerman and Representative Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.) that promoted our language into the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and the FAA Reauthorization Act, to the status now of being asked by representatives (as we were in several visits this fall) for language to include in reauthorization bills (these are the bills that fund federal projects). 

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