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’23 summer highlights

GMA News | August 1, 2023 | By: Fred C. Chuck and Bryan Gee

It’s been another busy summer for the Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA) and that activity will continue into the fall. We kicked off the summer in early May with our second Geosynthetic Infrastructure Morning at the Outlook Conference held at the Westin Poinsett in downtown Greenville, S.C. Two years into the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), many questions remain unanswered, and our invited speakers provided some insights. 

Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory and legal Issues for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), led a discussion on multiple items and issues that the IIJA created, including a record investment that led to increases in state and local contract awards of more than 30%; the Build America, Buy America (BABA) language; updates on the Davis-Bacon Act; Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards; Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) programs; and labor/contracting regulations. He also provided insight into various environmental issues including the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) debate (the Supreme Court has issued a ruling since this writing), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reform rollbacks, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) greenhouse gas (GHG) monitoring rule and the federal ‘buy clean’ initiative at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  

The FHWA GHG discussion provided a perfect lead-in for our second speaker, LaToya Johnson, pavement design and performance team leader of the FHWA office of preconstruction, construction and pavements. She introduced the FHWA sustainable and resilient pavements program that will change the methodology of pavement design to accomplish the following goals: achieve the engineering goals (including performance); preserve and (ideally) restore surrounding ecosystems; use financial, human and environmental resources wisely; and meet basic human needs such as health, safety, equity, employment, comfort and happiness. Johnson defined the FHWA position on the difference between resilience and sustainability: resilient systems contribute to sustainability; sustainable systems address impacts that necessitate resilience. While these two concepts are interrelated in many ways, they are not the same and both are important parts of FHWA’s mission. 

The FHWA’s vision for pavements and materials are defined to ensure that pavements are designed, constructed, preserved and maintained to accommodate current and predicted traffic needs and consider economic, environmental and social impacts and burdens throughout a pavement’s life cycle. FHWA’s vision for pavements and materials include the EPA’s Buy Clean Task Force, low carbon materials initiatives in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding for projects in the FHWA Climate Challenge and the Every Day Counts Round 7 (EDC-7)  for Sustainable Project Delivery.

The middle of May brought the GMA back to Washington, D.C., for our annual Spring Lobby Day and Executive Council (EC) meeting. Our day on Capitol Hill followed an afternoon of conversation at the EC meeting. The EC reviewed an update to the strategic plan and had a brief conversation about the structure of GMA and its bylaws. Of primary concern for EC members was the status of BABA requests for comments (RFC) as Office of Management and Budget (OMB), U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), and FHWA comment periods had lapsed. The guidance issued to date has not been adequate to resolve many questions raised by the RFCs, leaving our industry and many others in the transportation sector with multiple uncertainties. With the congressional meetings scheduled for the following day, council members also discussed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permitting reform, proposed rules for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), microplastics, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization. For the FAA reauthorization, the EC agreed on proposing language to the congressional offices to establish a Center of Excellence for resilient airfield pavement research.  

During our prep dinner, the invited guest speaker, Daniel Elwell, former deputy administrator of the FAA, provided great insight on how to work with the FAA.  Additionally, Vince Glick, associate program manager of the National Transportation Product Evaluation Program (NTPEP) updated us on the changes occurring with the Datamine system and the NTPEP program.  

On Lobby Day, our members met with 20 congressional offices (arranged by Whitmer & Worrall). Our primary goals for the day included explaining GMA’s position on BABA in hopes of obtaining support from each office in gaining clarity from OMB, USDOT and FHWA on the IIJA language. We also wanted to introduce the proposed language for the Center of Excellence and obtain their support during the reauthorization markup.

Glick’ presentation was perfectly timed, as in early June, NTPEP’s annual meeting was in Seattle, Wash. Several of our members attended the Geosynthetics and Erosion Control Products committee meetings to offer our continued support of the program. Daniel Selander (Willacoochee Industrial Fabrics Inc. (WINFAB USA), first vice chair of the EC, represented GMA during the meetings and provided updates. Of interest to GMA was the attendance of 46 state Departments of Transportation (DOTs) representatives, which was by far a record. This is a good indication that the program (GTX Work Plan) that we helped create is finally gaining traction in all the state DOTs. Hopefully, we will reach all 52 regions (including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.) with the geosynthetic program.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Committee on Materials and Pavements (COMP) annual committee meetings will be held July 30–August 3 in San Diego, Calif. The Interlayer Task Group (ITG) of GMA has been diligently working with a technical subcommittee TS-4g. Geosynthetics and Erosion Control Products committee, to produce a 21-century revision of the M-288 Paving Fabric specification and will be proposing this revision to TS-4g at the meeting. Other topics to be discussed include the state DOT portions on BABA, supply chain issues (availability of domestic supply) and revisions to the NTPEP work plans.

Be sure to block your calendar for November 14-15 and join us in Washington, D.C. for the 2023 Fall Lobby Days. This is an opportunity to meet with your local congressional representatives to promote the expanded use of geosynthetics. 

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