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Cement Shortage Causes Construction Headaches

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Less than a year after the state struggled through a severe propane shortage, another vital commodity is in short supply.

Area builders and contractors are trying to juggle deliveries of concrete, which is hard to get due to a shortage of cement.

Projects such as the new Vikings stadium and the St. Croix River bridge are using huge quantities of the important building material.

The cement shortage is actually the result of last spring's flooding and some problems at cement plants down south.

Cement is the main ingredient, along with aggregates, in making concrete. And there's no replacement for it.

It's in our roads and bridges, basements and high rises.

Hundreds of truckloads of ready-mixed concrete hit the roads each day of the construction season.

But contractors are finding their deliveries harder to come by.

"We have a problem right now. We do have a cement shortage," Knife River's Jerry Lang said.

Lang is president of the Aggregate and Ready Mix Association of Minnesota.

He says the problems began growing last spring with the severe flooding of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers.

He says much of our cement comes up river on barges. But when flooding silted in shipping channels, barges didn't move for more than a month.

On top of congested railroads, came additional disruptions caused by fires and mechanical problems at several vital cement plants in Iowa and Missouri.

"And then we deal with these customers. Which customers are going to get the cement and which ones we're cutting back, and what projects are going to be held up whether it's a state project, a DOT project, commercial or private residential," Lang said.

Large concrete dependent projects, such as the Vikings' new stadium and the St. Croix River bridge, are getting priority shipments, but are also facing some disruptions in their schedules.

Smaller contractors and builders placing spot orders for small quantities of concrete are feeling the biggest pinch.

So, companies like Knife River are trucking cement in from out of state, just to keep the vital building material flowing.

"Where typically a transport would bring three loads a day, now they're probably getting only one. So that limits it even further," Lang said.

Lang's company used to drive to a Burnsville cement terminal to pick up the dry cement, about 21 loads a day. Now his drivers have to go all the way to Iowa, restricting the amount they can haul to just 7 total loads a day.

Cameron Snyder, communications manager with Mortenson Construction said they are, "monitoring the situation very closely."

Snyder went on to say the contractor, which is building, among other projects, the new downtown Vikings stadium, has experienced some disruptions in the concrete supply as a result of partial shipments, backups, delays and restrictions on deliveries.

The company is working through it by  sequencing its projects, but Snyder adds, "it's a serious issue and is not business as usual."

Contractors and the concrete industry is asking Gov. Dayton for an executive order, much like was done for the propane shortage.

That would allow truck drivers to increase their hours on the roads, and haul loads up to 100,000 pounds.

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