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Newspaper column weighs pros and cons of concrete roads

Newspaper column | Bye Bye Potholes.

The Spring Grove Herald editor in southeast Minnesota wrote a thoughtful newspaper column this month. It weighs the pros and cons of paving with concrete. The editor challenged local leaders to look at the whole picture when it comes to road construction projects. Concrete paving was placed on Fillmore County Road 1 in 2016 between Spring Valley and the Olmsted County line.

The newspaper column tapped into the case studies and facts on this Bye Bye Potholes website. We appreciate that he grasped that an investment in concrete is an investment for decades. And it eliminates the possibility of potholes.

Here’s an excerpt from that column and a jump over to the complete Spring Grove Herald column.

County highway should have smooth ride for decades

Before construction started in 2016 on Fillmore County Road 1 — Fillmore County’s busiest county state aid highway when it isn’t closed for road work — traveling that stretch of highway from Spring Valley to the Olmsted County line was rough, to put it mildly. The potholes had become so numerous that many people feared for the health of their vehicles and even their own health as they traveled the 12 miles of county highway.

However, potholes on that highway will be a thing of the past as Fillmore County is paving the road with concrete. It’s not the first Fillmore County highway to transition from the typical asphalt to concrete, but it is still rare for local roads to have a concrete surface.

The main reason for the lack of concrete thoroughfares is expense — at least upfront expense. As the potholes surface again this spring now that the snow and constant freezing is nearing an end, it is worth examining whether local governments are considering the whole picture when it comes to road construction.

New asphalt is cheaper than concrete, but asphalt roads can break down into potholes within three years on one extreme while new Minnesota concrete pavement designs are expected to last as long as 60 years with minimal maintenance on the other extreme. . . .

Read the rest of the column by David Phillips.

Two tools worth using when fixing or building streets

life cycle cost analysis | bye bye potholes

Is your city requiring both asphalt and concrete pavement bids when fixing or building streets? If not, the bigger question is, why not?

Elected officials say taxpayers are looking to get the biggest bang for their buck when it comes to the cost of government. That includes the cost of building and repairing streets.

For that reason alone, cities and counties should require bids for both asphalt and concrete pavements. And those bids should include a life cycle cost analysis for road construction or repair projects. Doing so helps them determine whether using asphalt or concrete materials is the more cost-effective, sustainable investment.

Life Cycle Cost Analysis

The life cycle cost analysis considers the pavement’s initial cost, as well as the projected maintenance and reconstruction costs over the life of the road. Ultimately, it helps answer the question: Which design alternative – asphalt or concrete – results in the lowest total cost over the life of the project?

According to a 2012 American Public Works Association report, getting both asphalt and concrete bids often lead to reduced cost and an increase in a projects’ sustainability rating.

The concrete industry itself acknowledges that its product often has a higher initial cost than asphalt, but points to life cycle cost analysis to show that concrete generally has a longer useful service life and fewer maintenance costs over the life of the project. Read more here.

But the cost is just one measure of sustainability. What about the environmental impact of a road project?

Another tool being used helps cities determine the societal cost of concrete and asphalt is the environmental life cycle assessment. This rating includes the environmental impacts of using concrete or asphalt.

These two tools provide two very different assessments. The life cycle costs analysis measures the cost-benefit ratio; the environmental life cycle assessment helps measure the environmental footprint of a road project. Yet both tools help determine whether concrete or asphalt materials give taxpayers the biggest bang for their buck.

Top 2017 posts in the battle against potholes

We had some fun writing for this website in 2017. In addition to our  case studies, which detail concrete road projects around the state, the posts ranged from one city’s fight against potholes to the dangers potholes pose for EMTs and paramedics as they race to the hospital.

Here are our Top picks for 2017. Take a look:

1. Worthington battling potholes on two fronts

Like many public works crews across Minnesota, Worthington city crews spend a lot of time filling potholes. Last spring, the Worthington Daily Globe reported that city crews spend a week of non-stop pothole filling to put a Band-Aid on the problem every spring and summer. But that’s not all. In its fight to reduce potholes, the city has begun to pave more streets with concrete. Read more.

2. How a Mustang is like a concrete street

Mustangs are not cheap cars, but they are well built and last a long time. In this blog post, Editor Renee McGivern likens her 2005 investment in a Mustang to city or county’s investments in concrete streets. Like her Mustang, she notes concrete may cost more than asphalt on the front end, but concrete streets are high performing and built to last. See the post.

3. Infographic makes it easy to see the cost of roads

This infographic compares the initial and “life cycle” costs of asphalt and concrete on a one-mile stretch of road. It includes the projected costs of potholes repairs, as well. The end result is that after 20 years, concrete costs a bit less. By the end of 40 years, the costs of maintaining that road will be fairly even. Check it out.

4. EMTs, paramedics know dangers of potholes

Add emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics to the list of folks who know the dangers of potholes. On the roads, it’s difficult for ambulance drivers – seeking the quickest way possible to an emergency call — to avoid the bumps, let alone pothole-riddled roads. Take a look.



Infographic makes it easy to see the cost of roads

In a previous post, we showed a spreadsheet of an analysis of the initial and “life cycle” costs of a one-mile stretch of  road, comparing asphalt and concrete. Creating a visual of the comparison is very helpful, too. Here’s an infographic or visual view of that same spreadsheet. We added an estimate of potholes repairs to this as well. The end result is that after 20 years, concrete costs a bit less. We can predict that by the end of 40 years, the costs of maintaining that road will be fairly even.

  Road cost comparison infographic by reneemcgivern on Scribd

Best 2016 posts about city projects and road repairs

Six-year old Osseo concrete street | Bye Bye Potholes
Six-year old Osseo concrete street.

The evidence is mounting. Minnesotans are spending more than necessary on road repairs and reconstructions because of their cities’ weaknesses in the bidding process.

As the new year approaches, a review of 2016 Bye Bye Potholes posts offers a glimpse at how we reached this point and who is picking up the tab for local road repairs. As important, the posts provide a roadmap of possible solutions.

Cities face their own funding gap

In its report titled “Transportation Funding in Minnesota: A Myth-Busting Fact Sheet,” the League of Minnesota Cities reports that Minnesota’s 853 cities maintain some 19,000 miles of roadway and 84 percent of those municipal streets are ineligible for funds generated by the state’s gas tax, motor vehicle registration fees and motor vehicle sales tax. The majority of city road repairs, then, are the responsibility of local property taxpayers. Read the post.

Budgeting and the benefits of life cycle analysis

Transportation funding gaps are just one reason city officials turn to a life cycle cost analysis when bidding out road construction or road repairs. The tool helps them determine whether using asphalt or concrete is the more cost-effective, sustainable investment.

The life cycle cost analysis itself factors in the pavement’s initial cost, as well as the projected maintenance and reconstruction costs over the life of the road. Ultimately, it helps answer the question: Which design alternative – asphalt or concrete – results in the lowest total cost to the agency over the life of the project? Here’s the blog post.

Ready mix concrete producers rarely asked to bid

One of the reasons engineers and city councils say they don’t pave streets with concrete is that it’s too expensive. How do they know? Based on what? Our ready mix concrete members say they rarely get to bid.

This is akin to a city declaring it’s purchasing new Ford trucks because GM trucks are too expensive and yet they never checked GM truck prices.

City councils habitually approve hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenditures a year on asphalt (bituminous) street projects without ever looking at the cost of the alternative: concrete. Read more.

What cities say about their concrete streets

Ask city and county officials or project engineers why they choose concrete for road projects and the answer is frequently the same: It last longer and requires less maintenance.

Here’s what Albert Lea, Gaylord, Hutchinson, Montgomery and Wells had to say when asked about their decision to use concrete rather than bituminous. Read what these cities are saying.

Free concrete design service for cities kicks off

City council members and engineers who want to improve the bidding process for street projects by seeking both asphalt and concrete bids can now tap into the concrete design service ARM offers in partnership with the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association.

An asphalt street design can be quite different than a concrete street design. For instance, asphalt typically requires considerably more “base” in the design to hold up this softer pavement.

With a solid design in hand, which includes a life cycle cost analysis, the cities can then ask for and compare asphalt and concrete bids. These help city councils discuss both short-term (asphalt) and long-term (concrete) pavement solutions. We think this is a healthy conversation about how to get the best value for taxpayer dollars. Learn about the design service.