Let's keep putting fly ash to good use in Montana roads, bridges

(Billings Gazette 6-29-2012) Like most Montanans, I get pretty upset when I hear about waste. If we can recycle a valuable product that serves an important purpose – and create jobs in the process – then why wouldn’t we? Well, that’s exactly what fly ash offers. It’s a byproduct of electric power plants that’s recycled for use in critical infrastructure and construction projects across the country and right here at home.
A bipartisan group in Congress is trying to come up with language for the federal highway bill to expand the use of fly ash while ensuring oversight by state and federal regulators.
Taxpayer benefit
Washington is often gridlocked with partisan battles, but I am hopeful that members of both parties are coming together with a common purpose to do something good for Montana. If they succeed, Montana will continue to recycle and market fly ash in an environmentally sound way with great benefit to taxpayers.
Fly ash helps create longer lasting and stronger concrete for use in roads, bridges, runways and rail transit. It’s safe, more durable and more cost efficient than projects built without it: the use of fly ash saves more than $5 billion a year in transportation spending — that’s more than $100 billion over the next two decades.
In Montana, using fly ash in our roads and bridges saves $12.5 million every year — that’s more than 11 percent of what the Montana Department of Transportation spends annually on concrete. Not using fly ash in our highways would just be a plain waste of taxpayers’ money, which I find unacceptable. Most people don’t realize that without fly ash, many of Montana’s infrastructure projects simply would not have been possible — like the Hungry Horse Dam near Glacier National Park.
Lifespan doubles
Montana has 2,398 bridges made of concrete. The bridges that don’t have concrete fly ash will have to be repaired in around 30 years as opposed to bridges that utilize fly ash, which can last up to 100 years. Montana also uses up to a 20 percent substation of fly ash in our concrete highways, which doubles the lifespan of a highway from about 20 to roughly 40 years — that’s recycling with some serious bang for the buck.
I hope Montanans will support Congress’ efforts to come up with language in the transportation bill that allows for the greater use of fly ash. I promise to do my part, along with my colleagues in the Legislature and the departments of Environmental Quality and Transportation, to ensure that the legislation is carried out in the proper manner at the state level.
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