Public Works: Stronger Together

By: Pat Nelson, Chairman of the Board – Lehman-Roberts and Memphis Stone & Gravel

On April 19, 2021, a minor miracle occurred that I have not been able to stop watching. On Mars, a planet very far away from here, NASA successfully launched “Ingenuity,” a small robotic helicopter. It was the first power-controlled flight to take place on any planet other than Earth. Let that sink in for a minute. Flash back to 1903 – just over a hundred years ago – where two brothers successfully demonstrated powered flight in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And today, man is conducting a similar flight; only it is 186 million miles from here in an atmosphere that we were not even sure could sustain flight. Like I said, miraculous.

What is potentially even more amazing is to imagine the successive technological advances required to make that flight possible. Each layer of technology, from navigation, communication, environmental sciences, propulsion, solar and battery power, and even photography had to be invented, designed, tested, and probably redesigned to accomplish such a feat. The layers and systems of technology required are mind-boggling. But the results capture the imagination of and inspire future dreamers in ways that won’t be realized for many decades to come.

While not rocket science, I have similar awe at the logistics chain required to do what our team does each day. Beginning with raw land, we expend enormous amounts of effort looking for and locating aggregate resources that can economically be brought to market. Once those are found, they must be permitted with both local permissions and environmental entitlements to extract them. These materials then have to be extracted, washed, sized, and tested for gradation and soundness. Then comes logistics. In any given year, we move millions of tons of material without owning a single truck. It is quite an orchestra to move this material efficiently and on time. Before this material can be put to use, asphalt mix designs must be in place to optimize the performance of each mix. Aggregate is measured out in specific ratios, dried, then mixed with recycled and liquid asphalt, and out comes this unique resource that changed the face of modern infrastructure in the 20th century. Re-enter the logistics team again, only to hand it off to the artisans that lay that mixture on grade and compact it to meet the owner’s specifications. Oh, and we can’t forget a few critical steps, like crushing and milling, that help make this happen. As I mentioned earlier, miraculous.

Why would l take the time to walk through that process? Because when you do something every day over a long time, it is easy to under-appreciate all of the steps that go into making it happen. It also opens our eyes to why our teamwork and culture are so crucial. If there is any one break in that chain, then asphalt does not come out the back of the screed. If there is a weak link at any one point, we don’t get materials to our customers.

What we do changes lives. Our work and the infrastructure that we help to provide enable the lifestyle of hundreds of thousands of people every single day. It creates jobs, delivers goods to market, and gets our kids to school. Each step and process along the way is a critical link in the chain that makes that a reality. It might not be a flight on Mars, but it is a modern marvel in every sense of the word!