What is the general health of the road-building business in Columbia? We have two separate roadway markets in Columbia: public improvements that are contracted by local government and streets that are built as part of private development. The privately funded work is dependent entirely on the economic climate, and I am glad to say we have been seeing definite improvement in recent months. The public roadway construction is not as robust as it should be. Local governments continue to face funding shortages, and capital improvements are typically the areas that are first targeted for reductions in expenditures.
Interstate 70 is obviously a major artery for our state and also happens to be in need of serious repair. What do you think should be done? I-70 needs to be totally reconstructed across the state whether it is adding separated truck lanes or just additional capacity lanes. This road was built in the 1950 and was not designed for the size and number of vehicles being carried today. It is literally falling apart despite MoDOT’s best efforts.
How do you think it should be paid for? I personally think it should be a balance between user fees of some type and general statewide funding. The transportation system sustains our employment centers, our educational institutions and our medical facilities. A good system encourages economic investment because it assures uninterrupted delivery of services. A blend of the current fuel tax, which is a user fee, and something like a statewide sales tax would appear to me to be the fairest way to pay for it.
What are some of the biggest projects you’ve done in town? Emery Sapp & Sons has been in Columbia for more than 40 years. Trying to single out the biggest projects would be very difficult. We have performed large public improvement projects such as the I-70/U.S. 63 interchange expansion and the recently completed Scott Boulevard project, and we have done massive grading and site preparation work such as some of the largest industrial and retail centers. Columbia is our home, and everything we do, from replacing a residential sidewalk to building a new railroad bridge of U.S. 63, is equally important to us.
Why are there so many potholes in Columbia? Columbia probably does not have any higher percentage of potholes per lane mile than other cities of the same age. Because potholes occur as a result of pavement and subgrade failure and because older streets were built without the current requrements for base and pavement, there will always be a larger number of potholes in older cities. Because they develop during and after freeze-thaw cycles in the pavement, they all come at the same time, which adds to the perception of larger numbers.
Even industries that have been around for centuries have found ways to incorporate new technology? How does your company incorporate new technology into your everyday business? We were among the first to utilize computer-controlled grading and paving systems. We use 3-D computer modeling software for earthwork and grading designs, and all of our estimators and engineers are trained in integrated cost analysis sytems for bidding and managing jobs. And we extensively use video conferencing among our offices for bid reviews, inter-office meetings and financial management.
What’s the next big thing for Emery Sapp & Sons? We don’t know. We have a growth plan, but we have also seen that a key factor in the success or failure of a company is its ability to recognize and take advantage of opportunities that come up, opportunities that cannot be planned or predicted. I think we are good at seeing those opportunities and good at evaluating risk and reward. There may be opportunities in our field, a companion industry or something that would be totally unrelated to what we do now. Whatever it is, we will be ready.