Hard Facts Podcast


Hard Facts is a podcast that examines the best way to pay for the nation’s transportation infrastructure. We explore money-saving tools available to planners and builders and the case for using them through interviews with members of Congress, the Administration, and industry.

Subscribe and listen to new episodes every Wednesday on Apple Podcasts.

Hard Facts Episode 38: It is no secret that America’s worn out interstate highway infrastructure has surpassed its intended shelf life. Our current highway system can’t keep up with increasing severe weather events and rising levels of congestion. Infrastructure investment is necessary, yet Congress still struggles to find a sustainable funding mechanism despite the astronomical cost to the economy in the event of system failure.

On this episode, Neil Pedersen, Executive Director of the Transportation Research Board, shares the details of TRB’s The Future Interstate Report: 10 Big Ideas for the 21st Century.


Hard Facts Episode 37: Interest rates. Public sector investment. Jobs. Tariffs. Consumer confidence. These and other factors weigh on the minds of economists sorting through the tea leaves that are leading indicators of spending, orders for manufactured goods, and government contracts.

On this episode, Ed Sullivan, PCA's Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, shares the details of his annual Fall forecast for the economy and cement consumption.

Hard Facts Episode 36: Groups come from all over America to ask Congress and the Administration for more money. The needs are many and the dollars few, so the push, often times, is intense.

The federal government plays a key role in so many initiatives across all 50 states, but there aren’t many that are greater than the lead Uncle Sam takes when it comes to funding transportation.The lagging condition of our infrastructure is well known. Perhaps it’s the magnitude of the need that makes one transportation non-profit’s message so unique.

Transportation for America has made a break from conventional thinking, and while others are saying “more,” its leaders have energetically declared “no more.”

T4’s Director, Beth Osborne, joins us week to explain her organization’s funding message heard ‘round the transportation world.

Advocacy Group: Stop Spending on New Roads

Hard Facts Episode 35: Emergency managers know what it takes to recover from natural disasters. That’s why they’re telling states, counties, and cities to act now to prepare for storms, wildfires, and other calamities. David Paulison, the longtime chief of Miami Dade Fire Rescue, rose to national prominence in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when he was tapped by President George W. Bush to help New Orleans and other storm-ravaged communities recover while serving the nation as its FEMA chief.

Now he advises planners work to prepare their roads, bridges, water systems, electrical grids, and telecommunications networks before the next big weather event strikes. That was his suggestion in an article he co-authored for RouteFifty.com, and it’s what he told us during a recent telephone conversation.


Former Emergency Managers: Act Now Before the Next Storm

Hard Facts Episode 34: Washington is mesmerized by discussions of the spending that could be included in the next transportation reauthorization. Observers for more than a year have speculated about dollar amounts, paying little or no attention to the formulas that send federal bucks to the states each year.

Researchers for the non-profit, non-partisan Eno Center for Transportation want Congress to update the way money is spent. The think-tank recently published a report focused on the outdated funding formulas that are used to dole out billions in federal dollars to states annually.

Paul Lewis is Eno’s Vice President of Policy and Finance. He visited the Hard Facts studio this week to discuss the findings, and ideas, included in the report.

Report: Refreshing the Status Quo: Federal Highway Programs and Funding Distribution

Webinar Presentation of the Report

Hard Facts Episode 33: Just how much impact does transportation spending have on the U.S. economy? The influential Business Roundtable, a Washington, D.C.-based organization representing the CEOs of America’s top corporations, aimed to answer that question when it released earlier this year its economic analysis of transportation infrastructure investments. 

As Congress continues to work this fall on a new surface reauthorization bill, we’re talking about the report, Delivering for America, with Matt Sonnesyn, the Business Roundtable’s Vice President of Infrastructure, Energy, and Environment.

Delivering for America

Hard Facts Episode 32: While work on the next surface reauthorization bill is still in its early stages, many see it as an opportunity to push for policies that would encourage resiliency, changing the way we plan, design, fund, and maintain facilities.

The goal is to make transportation, communications, water, and energy investments more durable in the face of increasingly strong weather events and rising sea levels.

The bi-partisan Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, based in the Washington, D.C. metro area, shares that view, stumping for action since offering its policy options to achieve climate resilient infrastructure in January 2018.

Kristiane Huber is the Center’s Resilience Fellow. She helped write the paper and visited the Hard Facts studio this week to talk about it. 

Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Policy Options for Climate-Resilient Infrastructure

Hard Facts Episode 31: Climate and resiliency are hot topics in Washington and New York this week, with a second hearing on the subject in D.C. tomorrow and world leaders discussing the issue, among others, at United Nations meetings through Friday.

Last week’s House congressional panel addressed steps needed to reduce industrial emissions. The topic is similar at tomorrow’s hearing of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. 

In this episode, we examine resiliency and the legislative agenda impacting the cement and concrete industries with the Select Committee’s ranking member, Congressman Garret Graves, Republican from Louisiana.

Hard Facts Episode 30: A House panel in Washington, D.C. today heard from the cement and concrete industry about steps needed to improve industrial emissions. Dr. Jeremy Gregory, Executive Director of the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub, testified before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

On this episode, we hear Gregory’s testimony, a few of the questions he fielded from lawmakers, and also the view shared by another hearing panelist, Ross Eisenberg, Vice President of Energy and Resources Policy for the National Association of Manufacturers.

Hard Facts Episode 29: Not a day goes by without someone reminding us that our roads, bridges, and other transportation facilities get a failing grade from America’s civil engineers. You probably know the grade, because it’s quoted in almost every story on the topic.

We’ve heard people on this podcast talk about it. So we thought we’d talk to the people who issued it. This week, we explore the Infrastructure Report Card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers, with Anna Denecke, ASCE’s Director of Infrastructure Initiatives.

Hard Facts Episode 28: This week, Dr. Jeremy Gregory, the Executive Director of the Concrete Sustainability Hub at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joins us to explain the science of concrete, telling us why it’s cooler, and how it’s able to last so long.

Hard Facts Episode 27: With Congress still away on summer vacation, we’re taking stock of the people who make up the cement and concrete industry. A few months ago we profiled several members of the North American Concrete Alliance. But we didn’t get to all of them before the legislative stove got hot.

So we’re playing catch up now, with Mike Philipps, the new President of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association. Here’s the conversation about policy, traffic congestion, and mixing trucks.

Hard Facts Episode 26: The excitement over Senate EPW committee passage of a bill addressing surface transportation needs remains, but the reality is the unanimous vote to move the plan before the August break is only one step in a very long process, with the Finance Committee now tasked with the tough job of finding the money to fund the proposal.

Jon Deuser counsels the Portland Cement Association and others on transportation legislation and policy, drawing from almost two decades of experience in the Senate and House.

He tells Hard Facts the first vote was quick, and exciting, but that future action on a surface bill will take longer, predicting at least one extension to the current legislation will be needed before it expires at the end of next year.

Hard Facts Episode 25: States plan, design, build, and help fund the nation’s infrastructure. So how are they feeling about the Senate’s first attempt at a six-year reauthorization plan?

We posed that question to this week’s guest, Carlos Braceras, President of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and Executive Director of the Utah Department of Transportation. 

Hard Facts Episode 24: It’s been a little more than a week since the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee delivered on a promise to unveil and pass America’s first look at the next national surface transportation reauthorization bill.

The bill, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019, puts down a marker for spending and stakes out positions on several policy issues, including resiliency.

Rachel Derby, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Portland Cement Association (PCA), and James O’Keefe, a former EPW committee staffer who now advises PCA and others on federal policy and legislative issues, visit the Hard Facts studio to give their view of the new legislation

Hard Facts Episode 23: Weather is always a consideration when engineers design, and contractors build, our nation’s roads and bridges. But it’s becoming a bigger issue as the climate we’ve known forever has begun to change and grow stronger with each storm event.

Our guest is no stranger to the impacts of weather on the things we build. Pam Russell is a veteran journalist who covered Hurricane Katrina for the New Orleans Times Picayune. Today she writes for Engineering News Record.

We’ve gone through her most recent reporting on these issues and decided to ask her about some of those stories.

Hard Facts Episode 22: Weather is getting stronger. Damage from storms is greater. The costs to repair and rebuild are going higher. So how are we doing when it comes to changing the way we design and build infrastructure?

We posed those questions to this week’s guest, Dr. David Dzombak, a professional engineer who heads the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Hard Facts Episode 21: The looming presidential and congressional election cycle is often used as an excuse for inaction on a surface transportation spending bill, with some politicos predicting it’s almost too late to get anything done before the 2020 vote.

That may be true, but one advocate says elected officials are missing the chance to win support, and perhaps their own races, if they ignore voters’ demands for better infrastructure.

Michael Johnson, President and CEO of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association, joins us for a conversation about the political realities of infrastructure financing.

Hard Facts Episode 20: Everyone agrees that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But it took an Act of Congress last fall to encourage new thinking about spending on disaster mitigation.

Pamela Williams, Executive director of the Build Strong Coalition, first helped write the Disaster Recovery Reform Act from her perch as a key staffer on Capitol Hill. Today, away from Congress, she is working to implement the programs created in the legislation.

Williams visited the Hard Facts studio recently to discuss the law, the need for a new perspective on federal disaster assistance, and plans to help put key pieces of the Act into motion.

Hard Facts Episode 19: Transportation financing made a splash during the 2016 Presidential campaign thanks to candidates Trump and Clinton. Since then, the topic has gained more prominence. Even though a deal has not been reached, Dave Bauer, President and CEO of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, says progress has been made thanks to the debate that began on the campaign trail.

State Transportation Funding Boosts Can't Replace Federal Dollars, Road Builders Say.

Hard Facts Episode 18: With another presidential race gearing up, transportation reporters are now saying that a surface reauthorization extension is all one can hope for out of Congress next year. Frustration in Washington runs high as both sides have failed to find a pragmatic funding mechanism to fix America’s deteriorating roads and bridges.

Steve Sandherr, the CEO of Associated General Contractors of America, gives his thoughts on how partisanship is crushing the hope of improving American infrastructure.

Stephen Sandherr: Trump and Dems Should Fix Infrastructure and Stop Partisan Bickering

Hard Facts Episode 17: Think tanks, associations, and experts all have weighed in with their solutions for the nation’s transportation funding crisis, proposing funding mechanisms, policy solutions, and legislative language. Among them is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has offered a four point plan to address the challenge.

Ed Mortimer, the Chamber’s Vice President of Transportation and Infrastructure, appears this week to explain the plan and the need for Congressional action before the end of this year.

Hard Facts Episode 16: The national media’s view of the state of funding for transportation infrastructure is cynical and cautious, but the opportunity for more investment, despite their reports, is not completely lost. 

James O’Keefe has been on the inside, shaping federal policy, crunching budget numbers, and navigating Congressional politics for more than twenty years. He also consults the Portland Cement Association. 

Informed by his own contacts in Hill offices, O’Keefe tell us this week that work continues on a plan that includes discussion of ways to pump more money into the federal program.


Hard Facts Episode 15: For five months, we’ve been told to expect big bucks for transportation infrastructure. But with the abrupt end to the last White House meeting a few weeks ago, what is there to look forward to on the funding question?

Politico’s Sam Mintz writes for his newsroom’s Morning Transportation daily newsletter. He visits Hard Facts to discuss what happened at the White House, and where Congress may be headed even as the presidential election storm approaches.

Hard Facts Episode 14: We review the week’s infrastructure news in Washington, including the meltdown at the White House and the focus on climate change in Congress. Then, we get an overview of infrastructure policy and funding priorities from Rep. Rodney Davis, ranking Republican on the Highways and Transit Sub-Committee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Hard Facts Episode 13: Some concrete comes to the job ready for installation while some concrete needs to be pumped into the work site. Our guests have us covered this week, as we discuss precast, prestressed, and pumped concrete, all in one show!

This week we visit with Bob Risser and Christi Collins, both members of the North American Concrete Association (NACA).

Risser is President and CEO of the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute. Collins is Executive Director of the American Concrete Pumping Association.

Hard Facts Episode 12: It’s Infrastructure Week in Washington D.C., the seventh such event intended to call attention to the importance of roads, bridges, runways, ports, transit systems, and rail lines in the United States.

website created for the week says more than 500 organizations, companies, and cities are hosting over 100 events nationwide. One of those events was a news conference with the U.S. Capitol in the background, held under cloudy skies on Tuesday.

Hard Facts covered the proceedings and reports on comments made in favor of a financing solution to benefit America’s transportation infrastructure. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) are featured along with several industry leaders.

Hard Facts Episode 11: Minnesota Congressman Pete Stauber discusses the White House meeting on transportation funding and his introduction of the PAID Act, to require a Life Cycle Cost Analysis on any transportation project with at least $30 million in federal funding support.

Hard Facts Episode 10: The debate over how to fund infrastructure took an interesting turn this week. Is there a chance Washington can agree on a way to pay for projects? We briefly explore that idea, and then talk with Robert Thomas, president of the National Concrete Masonry Association, about his industry’s push for a commodity check-off program.

Hard Facts Episode 9: Reinforcing steel is a critical component of most concrete infrastructure projects. That’s why members of the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute are monitoring Congress as it debates the transportation funding question.
Danielle Kleinhans, the organization’s President and CEO, gives us a history lesson and explains why she is cautiously optimistic that Capitol Hill will find a solution.

Hard Facts Episode 8: As the weather warms in Washington, so does the rhetoric over how best to fund transportation infrastructure. The only agreement seems to be there is no agreement on how to raise the money to fund the work.

Hard Facts went along as members of the Portland Cement Association and the North American Concrete Alliance visited House and Senate members, seeking their support for a solution.

Tom Beck, PCA Board of Directors Chairman; Ron Henley, PCA Board of Directors Vice Chairman; Lori Tiefenthaler, Senior Director of Marketing at Lehigh Hanson; and West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito are the guests this week.

Hard Facts Episode 7: Almost everyone with a vote in Congress agrees that funding transportation infrastructure is important. But the forecast for getting a funding package done this year depends on who answers the question.

Jerry Voigt is the President and CEO of the American Concrete Pavement Association. He tells us inaction, for him and his members, is not an option.

Hard Facts Episode 6: Every industry group impacted by the infrastructure debate is looking to have its voice heard on Capitol Hill. Dozens of associations, even those not working for transportation interests, are pushing Congress and the Administration for a solution to the funding crisis.
But will anything get done this year? Rachel Derby, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Portland Cement Association, discusses the legislative process and addresses the potential for action in the current Congress.

Hard Facts Episode 5: Delaware Senator Tom Carper explains the challenge Congress faces in finding an answer to the transportation infrastructure question, and tells us why states are often better at finding money for roads and bridges.

Hard Facts Episode 4: While Congress continues to debate the details of a transportation infrastructure bill, hardworking people in the concrete industry are keeping an eye on their deliberations and their progress. This week, Richard Mueller and Ty Gable take turns sharing their messages for Capitol Hill policymakers. 

Hard Facts Episode 3: MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub Executive Director Jeremy Gregory talks about the Life Cycle Cost Analysis approach to planning transportation projects, which he says can return money-saving benefits to every road and bridge project.

Hard Facts Episode 2: Wyoming Senator John Barrasso talks infrastructure and his family’s ties to the cement and concrete business

Hard Facts Episode 1: Saving Tax Dollars Begins with Life Cycle Cost Analysis featuring PCA President & CEO Michael Ireland