By: Jan R. Prusinski, PE
A new Market Intelligence report by the Portland Cement Association entitled “Paving: The New Realities” concludes that asphalt pavement’s initial cost advantage over concrete has now reversed. Concrete roads are now not only the lowest life-cycle cost alternative (which they traditionally have been), but now command an initial bid price advantage...
The main dynamics affecting this change are the dramatic increases in the cost of crude oil and the shift in oil refining (through heavy investment in cokers) from lower margin heavy crude products, such as asphalt, to more profitable light crude products.
The report notes that “since 2003, oil prices have increased more than 200%, coker capacity has increased 33%, and asphalt prices have increased 120%. Concrete prices during the same period increased a comparatively small 37%.” These dramatic changes have allowed concrete to now hold a significant initial cost advantage over asphalt. PCA estimates that the cost for a unit 2 mile roadway will be about $266,000 (or 30%) less when paved with concrete rather than an equivalent asphalt pavement.
The key to this advantage, however, is “equivalent” design and expected performance. Unfortunately, asphalt pavements are often woefully under-designed, while concrete pavements tend to be very conservatively designed, resulting in alternative pavement sections that will perform very differently over the long term. Asphalt pavements–in as few as three years–will begin requiring perpetual maintenance, while the concrete pavements often are untouched (from a maintenance perspective) for 20 years, 30 years, or even more. The “savings” in initial cost for asphalt in this case (because of a “cheap” design) will be overwhelmed by the continuous maintenance costs required to keep the road serviceable.
This, of course, is not the best use of public funds. Sadly, though, it is the “old reality” of comparing incompatible alternatives. Our transportation agencies must take into account long-term performance, and not just settle for “cheap” designs to build more projects. Only then will they be able to take advantage of millions–billions–of dollars in savings due to the new paving realities.
"This blog was previously posted in the Cement Council of Texas' "Texas Cement and Concrete Blog" (now inactive) and was carried forward to the current blog ("Cementx Pavement Blog") as it contains content that may be of interest to the reader".
The Cementx Pavement Blog seeks to make pavement owners, engineers and contractors smarter about selecting, designing, constructing and maintaining pavements. New blog postings began February 1, 2017; however, we carried over pavement-related blog postings from our older blog, the "Texas Cement and Concrete Blog," which ran until December 2016.