A shortage of a key raw material used in traffic paint, methyl methacrylate, is forcing some highway departments and road crews to curtail their striping operations.

A major producer of the raw material, Dow Construction Chemicals, had production problems this year at a plant in Deer Park, Texas. Other companies, including DuPont, reportedly scaled back production during the recent economic slowdown. Additionally, Chinese producers of the compound have stopped shipping it to the U.S., saying they need as much highway paint as they can make for their own expanding transportation systems.

The Arlington, Va.-based Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) has contacted the Federal Highway Administration and the Washington-based American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to urge that they work with the state departments of transportation to develop a contingency plan to ensure that critical highway construction projects can move forward safely to completion, including final striping, and to ensure that there are no negative ramifications for contractors, subcontractors or suppliers for events that are out of their control.

Another trade group, the Fredericksburg, Va.-based American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), is urging state departments of transportation and other project managers to suspend penalties and/or liquidated damages for roadway striping contractors who are unable to deliver products in accordance with established project schedules. The ATSSA and its 1,600 members represent companies and individuals in the traffic control and roadway safety industry.

The request is the result of a global shortage of raw materials used to produce roadway-striping products, said Joseph Jeffrey, ATSSA's chairman, in a recent letter, which said in part, "Due to raw materials shortages, striping products are simply becoming unavailable." Jeffrey's note cited four raw materials used in the production of traffic paint that are in short supply.

AASHTO recently surveyed 10 state transportation departments regarding paint supplies and found that states were still receiving needed shipments of paint. Those transportation departments, AASHTO said, are cautiously optimistic that the shortfall will be resolved in the next few months with minimal impact to repaving projects. AASHTO represents highway and transportation departments in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.