GULF COAST PRE-STRESS BRACES FOR TEXAS MARKET FLOURISH
By Don Marsh
|Texas Concrete Partners Chairman Mike Spruill turned to Victoria and Elm Mott plant upgrades after the flagship business, Gulf Coast Pre-Stress Partners Ltd., of which he is president and CEO, completed a historic production schedule anchored by replacement of three Hurricane Katrina-ravaged crossings.
|Senior Project Manager Braden Carlton joined Texas Concrete Partners from Kiewit Infrastructure, a specialist in the design-build delivery method to which Gulf Coast Pre-Stress and TCP are tailoring Mississippi and Lone Star State sales and production.
|General Manager – Texas Rusty Smith joined TCP after covering reinforcing steel and pre-stressing strand sales, respectively, for Suncoast Post-Tension, Houston, and Sivaco Wire, Atlanta plus Florida Wire & Cable, Jacksonville.
The former Texas Concrete Co. plant in Victoria has a long track record in a narrow slice of precast/prestressed. It was founded in 1948 as prestressing methods approached their North American infancy, and nine years later delivered the first prestressed girder for a Texas Highway Department bridge—a Karnes County crossing that remains in service under Texas Department of Transportation. Certain batch plant components that factored into the charter girders were only recently retired, as the Victoria operation was fully upgraded to triple mix output capabilities. Work at the plant, which is strategic to Houston, plus central and south Texas, followed smaller scale overhaul at Elm Mott, a satellite operation serving Dallas-Ft. Worth and bridge markets north.
Parent Gulf Coast Pre-Stress Partners Ltd. (GCP) of Pass Christian, Miss., has targeted batch plant and casting bed investments in the rebranded Texas Concrete Partners, LP (TCP) to cover robust girder demand, fueled by public and private commitments that have sustained the Texas highway and bridge market for more than a decade. Standard roadway widening projects, coupled with new capacity—much involving toll road construction in Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, and the central Capital Region—have kept the state’s prestressed bridge producers humming.
|TCP (top, left) and Alamo Transit tankers unload Boral Class F fly ash and Alamo Cement Type III portland, respectively. As part of the batch plant contract, San Antonio-based Simem America delivered a 110-ton main and twin 60-ton silos, whose bolted panel construction eases storage expansion. Simem ships galvanized components throughout. The aggregate bin combines wide corrugated panels, bolted to abrasion-resistant steel liners; each of the three compartments has two gates. A weigh belt with suspension load cells allows simultaneous weighing of a batch and bin loading. A pair of Simem MSO 4500 twin shaft mixers bears on a platform supported by junior-sized I girders, and charges mix delivery vehicles at 14 ft. A new control panel has simplified work for lever-wise batch operators accustomed to very dated equipment (note page 34) that has given way to the new plant.
The Elm Mott and Victoria plants are workhorses for TX beams, succeeding bulb tees, and U girders, most common in Houston and Harris County. Yet bridges are only part of the equation: Unprecedented investment in petrochemical processing developments along the Gulf of Mexico, and the attendant demand for marine-grade foundations, have prompted TCP to equip Victoria for a return to 14- to 24-in. square prestressed pile fabrication.
“Up until 2013, Victoria was strictly a DOT product plant. It hadn’t shipped a pile in 15-20 years,” comments GCP President and CEO Mike Spruill. “Demand for square pile has shifted our whole schedule. Backlog for both plants is very strong. But even with the high level of product demand, Texas remains a very competitive market. Prestressed producers have to contend with tight pricing and competition for front line labor, along with safety and plant managers.”
Lone Star State market conditions and outlook have made 2012-2014 an opportune window for TCP’s integration with the Mississippi flagship. GCP acquired Texas Concrete Co. in 2005, months before Hurricane Katrina winds and storm surge destroyed much of the equipment and rolling stock at its massive yard along St. Louis Bay. In a textbook case of recovery and resiliency, GCP mustered staff and suppliers to clear the yard and repair or replace equipment, whereby limited production resumed within a month.
|A mid-century style office is appropriately part of the transition to Texas Concrete Partners LP; the old batch plant not so much. Robert Carr Construction, whose owner is the grandson of Texas Concrete Co. founder Bob Carr, dispatched demolition equipment shortly after TCP yard staff’s send off for the old workhorse .
Texas staff operated autonomously as the Mississippi plant poised for a historic business spike driven by contracts for replacement of one Louisiana and two Mississippi bridges that incurred heavy Katrina damage. Within a year of the hurricane, GCP was a central player in the new a) U.S. 90 Biloxi Bay Bridge, requiring 1,700-plus 18-, 24- and 30-in. square piles; b) U.S. 90 St. Louis Bay Bridge, with 900-plus 30- or 36-in. piles and 45 100-plus ft. girders; and, c) Interstate 10 Lake Ponchartrain twin span bridge, with 1,000-plus square piles and 900-plus 78-in. bulb tees, averaging 135 ft. long.
Concurrent with the Mississippi Department of Transportation and Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development projects, GCP resumed production on a pre-Katrina contract for a Florida Department of Transportation job in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, 2004: the I-10 Escambia Bay Bridges, with 600 36-in. square piles and nearly 500 78-in. bulb tee girders, 119- to 136-ft.
As much hurricane-rooted DOT and building work cleared, GCP turned to the Texas Concrete properties, each weathering a recession-buffered transportation market well. Elm Mott and Victoria both required new batch plants of higher output than existing equipment. At the former, Concrete Plant Restoration, Hedwig, Texas, built a new 220-ft. conveyor and twin-lane structure with Simem twin shaft mixers—one existing, the other new—charging 4-yd. hopper-bearing lift trucks.
|Through investment and management realignment, Gulf Coast Pre-Stress has positioned the TCP headquarters plant to capitalize on a spike in prestressed pile orders, while maintaining commitments to TX and U bridge girder customers. Haulers serving petrochemical processing construction sites along the Texas coast can typically make two deliveries from Victoria daily. Configuration of the 40-acre site requires plant management to view pile and girder storage day to day.
LEAVING LEVERS BEHIND
TCP started from scratch at Victoria, owing to the legacy equipment’s 1950s- to 1980s-era components. Robert Carr Construction, run by Texas Concrete Co. founder Bob Carr’s grandson, fittingly performed site and foundation work. Concrete Plant Restoration delivered a Simem America Corp. package: three-compartment aggregate bin and weigh belt feeding a 110-ft. charge conveyor; two MSO 4500 twin shaft mixers; and, 110-ton main and flanking 60-ton cement and fly ash silos. Mixer chutes are nearly 14 feet and charge Tuckerbilt 630s. The equipment runs on Command Alkon’s precast-centric COMMANDbatch CP controls.
“The old batch plant was good for 150-200 yards a day; the new one 450 yards. When the batch operator saw the new control panel, he told us, ‘I am used to pulling levers,’” notes Braden Carlton, who after a year as general manager – Victoria is returning to his initial TCP role as senior project manager, responsible for design-build contracts and accounts. Regarding the appointment, he adds, “Design-build delivery is increasing throughout our market area, in transportation and marine work, and behind about 60 percent of volume.”
Management transitions TCP announced in August 2014 have also included appointment of Rusty Smith as general manager – Texas. A veteran of (pre-Insteel) Florida Wire & Cable and Sivaco Wire, whose accounts included GCP, he joined TCP sales in 2013. He and Carlton will report to Mike Spruill, Jr., who as TCP chief operating officer will continue splitting time between Elm Mott, Victoria and Pass Christian plants.
Leading up to the Texas management changes, GCP consolidated key support staff—three estimators, three engineers and two accountants—in Mississippi. The home office is licensed for engineering work in the six Gulf of Mexico states, where GCP and TCP likewise carry DOT certification.
Texas Concrete Partners’ management team will see new opportunities while confronting familiar challenges, among them product flow and storage. At Elm Mott, with nine girder beds—two added since 2012—and two deck slab forms, recent land acquisition has stretched the footprint to nearly 110 acres. “At peak times, we have loaded up to 130 beams a week,” says Smith. Project delays and other obstacles prevented the yard from keeping that shipment pace, he adds, resulting in a mid-summer inventory of 5,000 pieces.
Product flow has been better at 40-acre Victoria, whose configuration nonetheless requires daily management of a sizable stock of 100-ft. and longer TX and U girders. Stacking options and faster shipping accompany the new production priority: 14- to 24-in. square piles, turned from three beds. “Just in the past year, we have seen pile become the main product at Victoria,” Carlton affirms. “Petrochemical, or energy transfer, work has brought significant foundation and infrastructure demand … The market looks good for another five years.”
Indeed, a May 2013 American Chemistry Council report outlines petrochemical industry ambitions sure to command TCP and competitors’ attention. “Shale Gas, Competitiveness, and New U.S. Chemical Industry Investment—An Analysis of Announced Projects” tracks nearly 100 projects totaling $71.7 billion in potential new U.S. investment through 2020. The building construction component is 10 percent, and nearly 80 percent of the projected outlays are concentrated in the Gulf Coast.
“Abundant supplies of shale gas have transformed America’s chemical industry from the world’s high-cost producer five years ago to among the world’s lowest-cost producers today. As a result, the U.S. enjoys a decisive competitive advantage in the cost of producing basic petrochemicals. Dozens of companies have announced plans to expand U.S.-based production capacity. Much of it is geared to export markets for chemistry and plastics products,” report authors note. “With the advent of abundant low-cost feedstocks, the U.S. chemical industry is presented with the most significant opportunity in 75 years.”
“The U.S. has become a magnet for chemical industry investment, a testament to the favorable environment created by shale gas as well as a vote of confidence in a bright natural gas outlook for decades to come,” affirmed ACC President Cal Dooley upon the report’s release.