A number of changes are affecting this, including changes in materials, equipment and process methodologies. Examples include in-place recycling, improved dowel-bar insertion techniques, high-performance concrete, fast-track construction methods, and ultrathin whitetopping. The result is a fundamental shift in the economics and the perceptions about the cost of concrete pavements.
"Concrete pavements have a well-earned reputation for strength and durability," explained Marlin J. Knutson, president and CEO of the American Concrete Pavement Association (ACPA). "Unfortunately, there is also a misperception among many people that concrete pavements take too long, are difficult to repair and are more expensive than other pavements.
"The reality is that today's concrete pavements are well-suited for an increasingly wide range of applications," Knutson said.
Like many other industries, the concrete pavement industry has differentiated its products to match marketplace needs, Knutson explained.
"Concrete is being used for a variety of paving applications because engineers and contractors, working closely with owners, can match concrete pavements to a wide range of performance and cost parameters," said Larry Cole, vice president of research and engineering, ACPA. "The performance benefits of concrete are well-documented, but many people are finding that concrete pavements also make sense on the basis of cost.
"Research is helping us find new ways to reduce cost, and the result is that concrete pavements are becoming more competitive on the basis of both life-cycle costs and, in many applications, a first-cost basis," Cole said.
A recent study by ACPA surveyed contractors from throughout the U.S. to evaluate the effects of certain features on pavement construction costs. The study examines a number of features, including: concrete pavement thickness, foundation, shoulders, cross-section variation (trapezoidal section), joint spacing, transverse joint load transfer, and transverse joint sealant.
The contractors were asked to focus on the highlighted features and develop quotes based on common circumstances and conditions for their respective areas. The study determined that the selection of concrete pavement features has a significant impact on construction costs. The information, when used in conjunction with related pavement performance information, should enhance the life-cycle costs of concrete pavement designs.
As an extension of this research project, the ACPA plans further study of these features and usage factors to further align construction cost and performance criteria.
Another study is evaluating the use of high-performance concrete (HPC), which is currently being used by architects, contractors and engineers in a number of construction applications to reduce initial construction costs while enhancing the quality of the structure. The study seeks to define HPC and develop an appropriate model that will help determine when HPC is indicated, based on cost and performance parameters.
"This research, along with field and academic research, is eradicating the misperception that concrete pavements are too expensive, too costly to repair and take too long," Knutson said.
A two-pavement system
As concrete pavements become more cost competitive, the benefits of a two-pavement system become more apparent.
"As an industry, we encourage a two-pavement system, which creates a fair, equitable and competitive environment," Knutson said, adding, "Competition is good for the pavement industry, because it breeds a spirit of innovation and creates value that benefits specifiers, as well as the general public."