In January 2014, the massive project to restore the United States Capitol Dome was launched by the Architect of the Capitol, and the members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades were hired to become a part of the small army of construction workers to get the job done. Still in progress, not only is painting and restoration required, but repair work to its metal structure is necessary, as well.
A victim of corrosion from being exposed to the elements, the work on the Dome is massive. The last time such restoration work was done to this scale was in 1959. The Dome itself is now completely covered in scaffolding that no one, legislator and visitor alike, can miss.
The site inspired the Government Affairs team to use this opportunity to educate congressional leaders on the toll corrosion is taking on our infrastructure, particularly our bridges, and how the work must require skilled crafts men and women with state-of-the-art training.
“Here we had representatives and senators walking into their chambers at the Capitol with us literally working overhead,” said Chris Sloan, director of IUPAT Government Affairs. “We already had their attention. We just had to create an educational program about corrosion and how we need to bring our roads and bridges into 21st century condition, as well, just like what we are doing on the Capitol Dome.”
In July, the Government Affairs team partnered with NACE, an organization recognized as the premier authority for corrosion control solutions, to create a presentation educating lawmakers on the causes of corrosion, the current state of our bridges throughout the United States and the type of skilled training required to repair our infrastructure.
They briefed members and staff on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House, and the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in the Senate.
The Cause of Corrosion
The presence of moisture in the air, which we call humidity, interacting with the metal surfaces of structures, such as bridges and overpasses, causes corrosion. It is a natural, destructive electro-chemical process that is intensified by chemical interactions between gases in the environment.
In order to prevent corrosion, we must limit metal’s exposure to air and water. This is done primarily through the application of a protective coating on the metal. To put it simply; we have to cover the metal in the structures with paint.
Yet, this is no ordinary paint. It is a coating specialized for this use. It costs hundreds of dollars per gallon and it must be applied correctly (down to the millimeter) for it to be effective. If the coating is too thick or too thin, it won’t be as successful in preventing corrosion.
The Facts about Corrosion and Our Bridges
With over 610,000 bridges in the United States, the average designed bridge lifespan of each is 50 years. Unfortunately, the average age of our bridges is already 43 years and, because of factors like corrosion, there are currently structurally deficient bridges among them. These are bridges that are considered to have a “significant defect” and require monitoring and/or repair.
The estimated cost to recoat the bridges that require maintenance is approximately $500 million. The cost to replace them? A whopping $3.7 BILLION. That’s quite a difference, to say the least.
The IUPAT and the Corrosion Fight
With the U.S. Department of Transportation estimating that our highways and bridges are in need of $479 billion in critical repairs, the IUPAT is growing our workforce with the necessary training to make those repairs when Congress begins funding. That means more IUPAT jobs for members and a larger market share in the industrial coatings industry for our employers.
However, the IUPAT needs to educate lawmakers at every level on not only just how crucial infrastructure investment is for our economy, but also that a particular level of training is required. This is why the Government Affairs team is preparing this presentation on corrosion and our infrastructure for the road.
Good to Spur Job Growth in the IUPAT and Our Communities
IUPAT Government Affairs is arranging presentations to local leaders on the high cost of corrosion to our country, and using tours on local bridges and structures where IUPAT members are on the job to see first-hand the skill-set required to do the job.
The local presentations are set to begin this fall and continue into next year and into the elections.
If successful, this campaign would not only be a part of putting current IUPAT members to work, it would give us the means to grow our workforce with the additional work opportunities. This campaign ties into organizing efforts and can help members of local communities to go to work through local hiring provisions when applied in project labor agreements for state and local government infrastructure construction projects.