Concrete Industry faces problems of supply and demand

Construction editor

A longtime friend of the concrete industry is the Washington Aggregates and Concrete Association.

WACA was first incorporated in April 1959. It was founded by several of the big players in the concrete industry from both sides of the Cascades and operated with in-house volunteers until 1985.

"We concentrate on promotional aspects for the industry as a whole," said Bruce Chattin, executive director. The organization allocates its resources to work on industry issues, giving technical advice, addressing legislative concerns and interacting with government agencies.

"We are really working to establish a positive working relationship with all the (state) agencies, as opposed to being at odds with the agencies," he said. "For example, we just set up a formal mission statement with the Department of Ecology to be good environmental partners -- for them to understand our industry better and for us to understand their goals for pollution prevention."

Over the past four years, Chattin said WACA has entered into a formal partnership with the state Department of Transportation, creating a small task force made up of WACA, the Associated General Contractors and DOT personnel to fine-tune concrete-related specifications for the DOT.

As a result, WACA and DOT put together a local study on fast track concrete about three years ago. The goal of the study was to demonstrate, with local materials and conditions, that concrete pavement could be opened in 24 hours or less (as opposed to a traditional three-day DOT "fast track" mix).

WACA set up a test section of pavement at the then-new Lafarge concrete facility in Seattle. The pavement was initially tested under the weight of fully-loaded ready-mix trucks using cylinders and beams for flexural strength. Internal and external temperature gain was also tested. From the study, WACA was able to document pavement could be opened and put it into full service in as little as 12 hours.

DOT officials decided to use the fast track concrete on selected HOV sections and exit ramps on Interstate 5 and parts of other commuter routes. Chattin said the city of Seattle also decided to give it a try on some of its roads.

"It's not an everyday type of construction method because, unless you need it, you don't elect to use it because it is going to increase the cost of materials," Chattin cautioned.

In addition to working partnerships, WACA is offering ACI certification programs for field testing technicians and will be starting its first flat work finisher technician classes in February (one class is planned in Seattle and one in Spokane, probably at AGC locations).

New for 1996 at WACA will be an aggregates curriculum for grades 4-6. The program focuses on how grade school teachers can use sand and gravel as an educational resource to instruct students in mapping, geology and related fields.

WACA has produced a full-color cartographic map/poster that will be used in the classroom along with a teacher's workbook. The poster will be adorned with "aggregate factoids" -- such as how much gold is produced in the state and the history behind the town of Concrete's name.

Chattin said the poster should be finished by the end of the year and distribution to teachers is expected at the beginning of 1996. A goal of the program is to get the materials to science coordinators of every school district in the state and have them distribute the goods to their schools.

To reach the masses, Chattin said he wants to keep the cost of the materials below $10 per poster/workbook package. He said WACA may start a program where a local concrete associate would "adopt a school" and donate kits.

"We're such a community-based business," said Chattin, "a lot of towns have a concrete supplier or an asphalt aggregates supplier."

Another WACA goal is to get the concrete industry involved in its annual awards program. Chattin, who has been with the organization for six years, said existing WACA records go back to the early 1960s and he thinks 1996 will mark the 28th year of the program.

The intent of the program is to recognize innovative people -- including architects, engineers, contractors, owners and others -- who work in the concrete community around the state.

"The ones (entries) that are the most fun to see are the really creative uses of concrete," said Chattin. "In the last four years, we have started to see more and more where concrete is being used as a medium for art." He cited examples of a mermaid sculpture that won a WACA award in 1993, a concrete clipper ship in Ballard built in 1991 and a decorative (colored, stamped and embedded objects) concrete trail for kids in a Federal Way multi-family complex.

A formal call for entries for the awards program is expected at the beginning of next year, followed by a late March deadline. A tentative May 2 date has been set for an awards banquet.

While the awards program looks at what is good in the industry, Chattin said there are some concerns lurking on the horizon.

"We're starting to see a decrease in typical public works funding, which has got us really concerned because public works is a large portion of the market for the construction industry as a whole," he said.

"We expect public works projects to start tapering off." He added there are no major concrete projects, such as the I-90 rebuild, planned in the near future.

Perhaps more alarming is the fact the industry is facing is a shortage of aggregates. Chattin said a site in Steilacoom, which was the first aggregate program in state back in 1890s, will be exhausted in five years. That site, combined with a big site in Everett that is nearly exhausted, have supplied over half of the aggregates in the Puget Sound region over the past century.

Local producers have recognizing the need for more supply. Lone Star Northwest just opened up new long-term site in DuPont, Associated Sand & Gravel is seeking a permit for the Granite Falls area and Cadman Inc. is also looking to expand in the Monroe/Granite Falls area. But, Chattin cautioned prices may go up as sites get further and further out because 45 percent of the cost of aggregates is in transportation.

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