Contractors chose to stay on the sideline rather than compete to mark 613 miles of pavement on South Dakota roads belonging to counties in the Aberdeen region.
The reason probably was a temporary shortage of marking material, according to Sam Weisgram, who works for the state Department of Transportation.
He told the South Dakota Transportation Commission that the project probably would draw bids when it’s offered a second time, but the work might not be done until 2022 [Bob Mercer, “No Bids Received on S.D. Road Project,” KELO-TV, 2021.05.28].
Traffic Solutions Inc. of Harrisburg and Dakota Barricade LLC of Rapid City were willing to bid on 76.8 miles worth of striping around Pierre, and even amidst the shortage of striping material, both companies were able to bid around 6% below the engineer’s estimate of $103,572 for the job, but evidently no one has the paint or time for 613.5 miles of striping up around Aberdeen.
The pavement-marking shortage appears not to be a new problem. The roadbuilders’ industry spoke of shortages of paint, epoxy, and thermoplastic last year. The pandemic caused a slowdown in road construction activity, but evidently that decrease in demand has been outpaced by the decrease in supply due to coronavirus shutdowns of plants producing the raw materials for road markings. February’s winter weather and power outages in Texas also froze the chemical industry and our paint supply; severe weather in Texas in April further slowed paint production.
But in 2010, the American Traffic Safety Services Association reported a similar shortage due to the global economic downturn, a Dow Chemical plant shutdown in Texas, and competition with more profitable industries for key chemicals. One industry observer contends that the current shortage in road-marking materials results from longer-term market forces to which the paint industry has not responded:
None of this news is good, and most of the problems are being blamed on some combination of COVID-19, the “Great Freeze of 2021,” and increasing consumer demand. To an extent, it is reasonable to lay the current problems at the feet of these three sources of disruption, but I would posit that all three of these sources of shortages, compounded with late deliveries; force majeure declarations; the sharp and rapid increases in the price of raw materials; the resultant price increases in finished products, such as paints, coatings, varnishes, stains et al., have merely decreased the timeframe in which our current problems manifested themselves, rather than caused them.
The handwriting has been on the wall for quite some time. Erratic oil prices during the period 2014–2020; rising consumer demand during this same period of time; historically low mortgage rates, which have fallen steadily from a high in 16+% in 1981 to ~2.5% in early 2021, before rising to ~3% in early March, fueling a major residential housing boom; serious problems, during the past decade, with insufficient personnel and equipment in the trucking sector, that is galloping into the current decade with a vengeance; an extremely high savings rate; high consumer confidence; and the list goes on, have all been acting, over the past several years, on the economy to bring us to the point where we are today.
There is no point blaming COVID-19, the Gulf Freeze, or any other factor or set of factors. The problem is that U.S. industry, in general, and the paint and coatings industry, specifically, have failed to build resilience into their supply chains, and are now paying the price for their negligence. The United States is now putting an additional $1.9 trillion in new stimulus funds into circulation at a time when many experts feel that we are on cusp of a consumer boom, and this will only exacerbate the situation for the most prepared of all manufacturers and potentially wreak havoc on less-prepared producers of raw materials and finished goods, who have failed to build sufficient resilience into their supply chain philosophies and practices [George R. Pilcher, “Paint and Coatings Raw Materials in 2021: It’s All About Resilience,” Coatings Tech, April 2021].
Whatever it takes to resolve this shortage, Brown County had better find some paint or groove tape fast. Clear lane markings save lives.