Category Observations

EMTs, paramedics know dangers of potholes

Ambulance, pothole damage

Add emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics to the list of folks who know the dangers of potholes.

“Potholes jar everything in the back of the truck and can hinder patient care,” said Brandee Lynn Ockwig, an EMT and volunteer firefighter from Waseca.

Driving and working full-time for an ambulance service in southern Minnesota for 12 years, she knows the perils of potholes first-hand.

“Putting something in an intravenous line or working on the patient is hard enough to do in good conditions, but when you put in the unknown – like a pothole – that’s a challenge.”

In addition to providing basic life support, such as first aid and CPR, EMTs and paramedics perform a wide range of medical procedures while transporting someone to the hospital. They often insert IVs or administer a limited list of medications, such as those used to treat pain or a severe allergic reaction or to save someone suffering a drug overdose. They can also inform the hospital of your condition before arriving at the emergency room.

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.

An ambulance ride can be uncomfortable

According to Minnesota’s Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board, distances for ground-based ambulance services vary from 2 miles in a metro area to as many as 70 miles in northern Minnesota. The average carry distance is 20 miles statewide.

“Potholes are worse than driving on gravel roads and can come out of nowhere, especially at night,” she said.

“You learn which roads are really bad, and you try to give your partner a heads up when you have to swerve or brake, but that doesn’t make it any easier for your passenger,” she said.

It also doesn’t make it any easier on the rig itself. Many ambulances return to the station with bent rims, flat tires, and broken suspensions. It all adds to the cost of operating the ambulance service and, ultimately, your trip to the emergency room.

Four things to know about colored concrete for your next project

colored concrete | Bye Bye Potholes

Many city councils face decorating decisions when their city embarks on a downtown streetscape or similar project. One of the most common choices they make is using colored concrete to affordably jazz up plain gray concrete and public spaces.

To help cities make a good decision about colored concrete, we turned to two ARM members who are experts about this. They’ve seen city projects succeed and fail, and they know what works and doesn’t work to ensure your colored concrete looks great and lasts decades.

Here are four things they want you to know about colored concrete:

1. Choosing a color for concrete is NOT like choosing one for a bedroom wall.

The color pigment for concrete is mixed with natural elements like aggregates and portland cement. Crushed rock can range from pink, orange and tan to brown, dark green and gray. Portland cement can range from white to pinkish to dark gray. Your color is affected by those colors.

In contrast, when you choose a color for your wall, it’s consistent from gallon to gallon. It’s not like the black bristles of your brush add black to your Benjamin Moore paint.

Be sure to select your concrete color from a specific concrete color chart with specific names. Don’t refer to a paint company’s chart and names.

2.  Make sure the colored concrete comes from the same ready mix concrete plant.

If your concrete comes from different plants for a single project, you could end up with one shade of charcoal concrete at Main and 1st Streets, and another shade at Main and 3rd!

It is not unusual for a contractor to tap into a few different ready mix producers to complete a project, but you can end up with inconsistent colors (even with plain gray) when the concrete dries. One plant might use pinkish portland cement and another plant dark gray, for instance.

Using the same plant also ensures that the water-to-cement ratio is consistent from concrete batch to batch. City inspectors should make sure the contractor doesn’t add additional water at the job site because it can change the color in a single batch.

3.  Avoid reds, even though cities traditionally select it.

Red pigments interact with portland cement and aggregates in unpredictable ways due to the iron oxide that makes it red. Iron oxide also is a natural element.  The color pigment, the aggregates, the cement, the iron oxide: the mix can be like four kids squabbling for dominance of the t.v.

No other concrete color is as fussy as red. Reds can turn to rust, brick, cherry, pink, and even orange, as one city recently discovered. If you still want to choose red, use it sparingly and choose a reddish-brown, like “Marshfield,” a Scofield color.

Another reason for avoiding reds is because cities often do not seal their colored concrete every two to three years to maintain them and fussy reds, especially, don’t hold up well.

By choosing not to regularly seal your colored concrete, the new Streetscape you celebrated at your Grand Opening could look quite different by your third downtown Octoberfest event. (call-out quote)

4.  Choose contrasting colored concrete for the biggest impact and bang for your buck.

How about charcoal gray and tan with the traditional gray? The contrast can be very attractive, helpful to pedestrians and drivers, and as affordable as a single color.

Regular sealing, of course, will keep the contrast clear and bold over time.

Many thanks to ARM Associate Members Andy Pearson of SIKA®, an international chemical company, and Guy Peterson of Scofield, a division of SIKA® specializing in color pigments. They came up with these four points about colored concrete and know a great deal more.

Questions about colored concrete? Contact Guy Peterson of Scofield, who’s a walking encyclopedia about color pigments:

Effective partners offer concrete, asphalt certification classes

asphalt certification class | Bye Bye Potholes

Public works employees throughout Minnesota rely on a unique private-public partnership to deliver concrete and asphalt certification classes so they can work on road construction projects within their geographic boundaries. And they’ve done so for nearly 30 years now.

In the 1990s, the federal government mandated that all states implement quality assurance programs.

To date, more than 10,000 public and private sector employees who work with aggregate, bituminous and concrete materials have participated in Minnesota’s state training program. Cities from south to north and everywhere in between have enrolled their public works employees and engineers in the state’s Technical Certification Program.

In Minnesota, the state Department of Transportation (MnDOT) partners with the Aggregate & Ready Mix Association of Minnesota (ARM) and Lake Superior College in Duluth to implement and deliver its required technical certification training.

“It’s a great program and it continues to grow,” said Fred Corrigan, ARM’s executive director. “We used to train from December to March but demand has required us to add courses in April and May.”

This past year, the program trained, certified or re-certified roughly 1,300 aggregate and concrete personnel. Another 1,700 were trained and certified annually in bituminous road materials and construction.

John Micheau, MnDOT’s technical certification specialist, said the certification program is designed primarily for personnel already working in road construction, although seasonal workers may obtain provisional certification in some cases.

Partnership with industry provides hands-on concrete and asphalt certification

One feature that makes Minnesota’s training and certification program somewhat unique is the partnership with the industry, said Corrigan. “We mix textbooks with hands-on training by instructors who have actually worked in the field.”

Students can bring real situations or problems to class and the instructors have hands-on experience to address them.

Testing also reflects the hands-on approach. Students take both a written exam and a hands-on test in a lab setting.

Dan Frentress, ARM’s Technical Certification Education Coordinator, has been teaching these classes since 2002. He holds a BS degree in Civil Engineering from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Before joining ARM, Frentress worked for Scott County, Iowa as a project engineer, and later was the executive director of the Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota. He started his own consulting firm in 2002 specializing in training and research of concrete pavements.

“The key to the certification program is industry involvement,” said Frentress.

Minnesota’s program teaches to both the national and state certification requirements. Private sector work, like the new Vikings stadium, requires national certification. Most public sector work requires state certification.

The concrete and asphalt certification programs also take into account Minnesota’s climate. For example, in Minnesota, testing to ensure that concrete has both the proper amount of air and that the air is properly distributed throughout the concrete is critical. As Frentress noted, the right amount of air correctly distributed helps ensure that the concrete doesn’t crack or heave during the winter’s freeze-thaw cycles.

MnDOT’s Micheau said the certification program helps ensure uniformity in testing across the state and of the testing of materials used on the job site.

Concrete and asphalt certification courses moving online

Demand for classes has been steady the past five years, according to Micheau. Training generally occurs January through April. ARM adds more classes in the spring and summer based on demand.

Also, MnDOT created an online concrete recertification course in 2013. Its online learning module provides an alternative to the eight-hour, classroom based recertification training. It also allows MnDOT personnel, city and county staff and others to recertify without incurring travel costs and lost work time.

The project to move the certification course online was funded by the Local Road Research Board. MnDOT is working to offer all of its recertification courses online.

Concrete and asphalt plants must be certified each year. And students, once certified, must be re-certified every five years.

MnDOT’s seven certification areas are: Aggregate Production, Bituminous Plant, Bituminous Street, Bridge Construction, Concrete Field, Concrete Plant, Grading & Base Concrete Strength Testing. There are two levels of certification for each.

  • Level 1, referred to as a “tester” or “field tester” level. This level is for individuals with limited responsibility who normally work under the direction of a supervisor. Often, materials testing and/or sampling is the sole duty of a Level 1 technician.
  • Level 2, referred to as the “inspector” level. This is an advanced certification for individuals in a decision-making role, such as project supervision or oversight.

Registration for the MnDOT/ARM technical certification classes begins annually on Oct. 1, the same day the 2017-18 class schedule is published.

There seems to be a trend for paving with concrete. Read Minnesota cities are choosing concrete.

For complete course descriptions, go to the ARM website.


How a Mustang is like a concrete street

Ford mustang | Bye Bye Potholes

In 2005, Ford Motors introduced a retro-looking Mustang. It just so happened at the time that 1) I needed to replace a car that was in the repair shop too often, and 2) I had a heckuva lot of fun driving my dad’s Mustang when I was in high school.

Mustangs are not cheap cars (about the price of Ford Fusion today), but they are well built and last a long time. Having been nickeled and dimed to death by recent cars, I decided to invest the $22,000 and buy a red Mustang. It was the smartest money I ever spent.

It’s 2017 and 12 years later. The car has 205,000 miles on it and still get compliments. I haven’t replaced the brakes or radiator. The engine is still in great condition, although it overheated a couple years ago requiring an unexpected $250 repair. I replaced the original muffler last year, and only because my son backed into something. This Mustang and its parts were engineered to last.

During all these years, instead of being nickeled and dimed on repairs and disrupted a lot, I have been able to put the money toward the other car’s repairs, home improvements, or even vacations.

This is a life lesson on paying a bit more up front for long-lasting performance. What a hassle-free life this car has given me.

So how’s a Mustang like a concrete street?

My investment in my Mustang is like your city or county’s investment in a concrete street. You might pay more on the front end than you would for asphalt, but concrete streets are high-performing and built to last.

The annual operating budget will be free of the regular patching, seal coating and pothole repairs that come with an asphalt street. Drivers will be free of detours and road construction. And taxpayers won’t have to buy a new street 15 to 20 years later.

Concrete paving just sits there until the 20 to 25-year mark when minor repairs will be required. And then it will just sit there for another 20 years or more. You’ll get at least 40 years of disruption-free (patching and pothole-free) life for that original payment.

Don’t take my word for it. See what city engineers have to say about this.

I’ve been assured by my mechanics that the Mustang has another 100,000 miles to go, so I’ll likely get 20 years out of this car. Local public engineers who place concrete streets can assure residents that those roads will last at least 40 years.

Pretty smart use of my money and taxpayer money, yes?



Comparing cost of roads like comparing toilet paper

cost of roads | Bye Bye Potholes

When it comes to the cost of roads, Minnesota’s tax dollars might get far better mileage if elected officials relied on everyday cost comparison skills.

Take shopping for toilet paper as an example.

How do you compare the price of toilet paper when the number of rolls per package differs, but also, you’re choosing from one-ply, two-ply or three-ply sheets?

The Consumer Reports’ Toilet Paper Buying Guide recommends using the number of square feet per package to compare costs. The price per square foot can range from 13 cents to 43 cents per square foot.

The Buying Guide also notes that people often use fewer sheets of toilet paper with multi-ply rolls than with single-ply ones. Considering how long a roll will last is as important as comparing the initial cost.

Savvy shoppers figure out that paying for the least expensive, single-ply toilet paper on the front end may not be the most cost-effective in the long run.

Consumer common sense applies to judging cost of roads

Like the square-foot measure for toilet paper, let’s use a one-mile stretch of new road construction. And like analyzing how long a roll of toilet paper will last with one-ply or multi-ply sheets, let’s explore how long a road will last when choosing between asphalt or concrete paving.

We’ll use an example of an actual county project for a one-mile stretch of road where the bid for asphalt is $363,000.

A county can expect to spend another $152,500 to maintain the asphalt pavement over the first 20 years of the road’s life, based on a county engineer’s projection.

Let’s compare that to the projection for that one-mile stretch of concrete road. The initial bid is $453,000, and the county can expect to spend $40,000 in the first 20 years. In the end, the cost of the concrete road is $22,500 less than the asphalt road.

Want to see this comparison visually? Check out this infographic.

It sounds familiar: When comparing the costs of roads, taxpayers and their elected officials may find that the least expensive option on the front end isn’t the most cost effective in the long run.

Wondering how road engineers do a cost analysis? They use a pavement design software, called StreetPave. Most county and consulting engineers have this software. It takes about 30 minutes to produce a cost analysis for road projects comparing asphalt and concrete’s initial and maintenance costs over the life of those roads.