EDITORIAL: This is not a lemon

Bill Wilson / January 13, 2011

Looking out from my bedroom window at the wattage-buzzing streetlight I thought it was going to be huge.

Wait, it was going to be bigger than huge. The line would start to form about an hour prior to opening, and then the lemonade would flow until the last drop relentlessly released itself from the big yellow decanter. As a 10-year-old marketer, I was resigned to the tools of my elementary schooling: paper, pen and tape. But I thought I had the pull of Apple’s 1984 campaign four years before its time. So I let my pen take over, and before long that powerful 8½- x 11-in. billboard was slapped to the concrete pole of illumination. It read: LEMONADE SALE ON FRIDAY. SIGN UP NOW FOR YOUR CHANCE AT PRIZES. I even braced the paper for inclement weather (it was covered in tape) and hung a pen beside it. Yes, now I thought this was going to be bigger than ever.

However, the next day came, and it didn’t come with any signatures or autographs. The next day after that came, and now I was losing money with this promotion: Somebody had stolen my new pen. And on the third day, the inner boasting turned into a bust.

Today, the Federal Highway Administration is living my puckered-out lemonade campaign. It has this undeniable product, but nobody is signing up for it. Well, OK, a few have so I guess it’s officially a notch above my marketing disaster. However, I believe the light will be shining on this one for quite some time.

HIPERPAV software, which determines early-age behavior in portland cement concrete, has been offered free since its first release in 1996. Two more versions have come and gone, and the momentum has been touch-and-go with contractors for over a decade. Actually, it has been more on the touchy side. I saw an hour of this sensitivity at the latest American Concrete Pavement Association annual meeting in Florida. George Delano of Granite Construction Inc. opened his session titled HIPERPAV: A Contractor’s Perspective with a strong, yet equally harsh, pubic-service announcement. When he asked how many people knew of the software, just about every hand waved. When he then asked how many used it, just one was left dangling. Comments about the software’s shortcomings were now being raised. One contractor wished the technology showed the effects of live traffic load. Another hoped a future version would include ternary mixes.

The doubt was prominent, until Delano made his own marketing pitch that was created with one elementary tool: real life. The state of California recently came out with a new requirement that calls for all road construction projects to have a Pavement Early Age Crack Mitigation System. This requires the prime to submit an analysis before the start of every working day, and it must use the HIPERPAV software. Delano’s real life without HIPERPAV story played out on Granite’s Highway 99 Atwater project. There, crews first paved in September before taking a break and returning in October. Welcoming them back were cracks of all varieties. It was later determined that thermal shrinkage and high restraint from a lean concrete base caused the breakdown, and cost the contractor $50,000 to fix. Delano said the mix was revised with less fly ash, an important step that HIPERPAV would have revealed. Granite is now using the software at bid time to determine if the required mix will do the job.

When a new concoction is served, this industry continues to take a long pause before taking a sip. What the FHWA needs to do is hold a series of seminars across the U.S. to shake all the uncertainty out. At the beginning of these sessions should be an open forum, where contractors can voice their reservations (and possible enhancements) to the FHWA. Those at the state level also need to be involved, and perhaps in no time both sides will be filling their cups with this technology. I wouldn’t recommend keeping this sales pitch on paper.

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