Costs paving way for concrete – cheaper than asphalt?

Some suggest concrete may be cheaper than asphalt for roadwork

(Florida)  —  Asphalt often wins out over concrete when transportation authorities select materials to build roads.  But experts debate whether that might change, as funding for road construction goes down and the price of asphalt, which is petroleum-based, goes up.

Motorists won’t see much of a switch of asphalt roads being replaced with concrete, said Bob Burleson, president of Florida Transportation Builders Association.

But, “in some new construction, there might be an opportunity to look at concrete,” he said.

Asphalt is becoming scarce, as U.S. refiners overhaul their equipment to maximize output of highly profitable fuels, such as diesel and gasoline, using inexpensive — and hard-to- process — crude oil.

The dearth of asphalt compounds the challenges states, counties and cities already face in fixing bridges, highways, local streets and other critical infrastructure at a time when budgets are squeezed by falling income, sales tax revenues and real estate tax revenues. There also are higher costs for fuel, steel and other raw materials.

While it hasn’t experienced the shortages like other states and communities across the country, Florida has seen a spike in the price of liquid asphalt, Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Dick Kane said.

Liquid asphalt makes up only about 6 percent of the asphalt mixture, but adds 40 percent to the cost, he said.

The shift in refinery technology that led to the decline in asphalt production was spurred by increased oil prices earlier this year.

Oil refineries around the country are installing billion-dollar machines called “cokers” that are able to refine the chunkiest, low-grade and least expensive crude oil into highly profitable fuels, such as gasoline and diesel.

Asphalt is cheaper than concrete upfront, but concrete lasts longer before it needs repairs.

When deciding between the two materials, the Florida Department of Transportation compares the life of the road with the cost of using both materials, said Roger Schmitt, materials and research engineer for DOT District 5, which includes Brevard County.

That amount includes not just the initial construction costs and the price of maintaining it, but the costs to drivers in terms of their time spent delayed in construction traffic and the cost of running their cars.

An analysis for a section of Interstate 95 being widened from State Road 528 to Fiske Boulevard pointed to concrete as the more cost-effective option.

Generally, road project analyses have to show the project done with concrete will last three times longer than if it’s done with asphalt before the transportation agency picks concrete, Schmitt said.

But that could shift somewhat as asphalt prices rise.

“If asphalt increases more, concrete will become more and more viable,” he said.

Building roads with asphalt can end up costing more when upkeep costs are considered, said Jamshid Armaghani, director of concrete paving with the Florida Concrete & Products Association.

“The reason this cost is becoming a drain on the counties and cities is because asphalt more often needs repair and resurfacing,” he said.

Meanwhile, concrete pavement should last for 40 years before it needs maintenance, he said.

State Road A1A, which he said was built with concrete, has been in place for 60 to 70 years.

“It’s like buying a car that’s going to cost you a little bit more, but doesn’t require maintenance over the long time,” he said.

Asphalt advocates, however, dispute that.

Asphalt is easier to repair than concrete, said Margaret Cervarich, vice president for marketing and public affairs with the National Asphalt Pavement Association.

To rehab asphalt roads, crews only have to mill off the top inch or two, and replace it with a new overlay, Cervarich said. In some cases, that milled material can be reused at the site.

“Regardless of the initial cost, the life cycle of asphalt is always going to be lower,” she said.



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