The media frenzy and public outcry following
the Minneapolis bridge collapse could push politicians to boost
spending on infrastructure and, in particular, on bridges,
several steel executives said. Any such moves could prove a
boon to producers of plate, reinforcing bar, beams and
It takes about 25,000 to 30,000 tons of steel
to build a very large bridge, said William B. Larson, senior
vice president and chief financial officer of Irvine, Texas,
mini-mill Commercial Metals Co. (CMC). Builders would need
between 10,000 and 15,000 tons to construct a smaller bridge
like the one in Minneapolis, while heavy repairs to an existing
bridge would require about 5,000 to 10,000 tons. "That is
substantial-and that's not talking about the highways that lead
into them or anything else," he said.
Any state or federal funds would probably
come with requirements that contractors buy from U.S.
producers, Larson said. CMC could provide rebar for bridge
decking and the highways that lead into them, he noted, but
companies that produce beams or plate could see the biggest
Smaller bridges might use beams rolled from
mills, but larger bridges often need beams bigger than mills
can provide. Engineers generally build these massive beams and
other support structures from plate.
"When the bridge market is active, it is a
considerable user of plate products," Dan Miksta, vice
president and general manager of steel products at Ipsco Inc.,
Lisle, Ill., said. Many expected that market to spike upward
following the passage of the 2005 transportation bill, he said,
but the boom didn't materialize, and the market has been only
so-so in recent years.
But there is demand for new bridges and
bridge repair and replacement, Miksta said. "I believe the
potential is there, given the political reaction to what
happened, for this to be a more active market. It's certainly
nothing that would impact 2007 to any major degree, but beyond
that I think it has potential, depending on how quickly this
works through the political system."
The bridge market represents about 20 percent
of Claymont Steel Holdings Inc.'s business, said Steve
Lundmark, the Claymont, Del., plate producer's vice president
of sales and marketing. And while the concrete and steel
industries might vie for bridge projects, even concrete bridges
use some plate steel.
The company had been expecting an increased
emphasis on infrastructure, particularly on bridges, he said,
and public attention could speed the process of releasing
government money for some projects. Even so, the market won't
explode overnight. "Just because a bridge needs to be repaired
doesn't mean that there's a design and a plan for it," he
While infrastructure expansion and repair
projects might take a long time to get off the ground, they
could provide a long-term boost to business, Lundmark said. "If
they really get into a program of fixing all these substandard
bridges, it'll go on for several years."
Often, legislation is passed but spending
doesn't occur, said Richard Teets, an executive vice president
in charge of the steel shapes and building products division of
Steel Dynamics Inc., Fort Wayne, Ind. But things might be
different this time, he said. "You hate to think of
capitalizing on a tragedy, but it happened, and politicians
will all be sensitive. No one wants to be tagged with, 'It
happened here, too'."