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Ohio DOT to Test Whether Asphalt or Concrete is Better Buy

Fri May 28, 2004 - National Edition

WOOSTER, OH (AP) The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has asked the competing asphalt and concrete industries to each pave an eight-mile stretch of highway in northeast Ohio to see which material is a better buy.

It will take decades to determine which surface comes out on top, but ODOT spokesman Brian Cunningham is quick to point out that the project is not a competition that would guarantee the department’s exclusive use of the winning material.

"It’s an evaluation in similar conditions, so we can use the information to benefit motorists in Ohio," Cunningham said. "Both products have a place in our industry and we’ll continue to use both products. So it’s not like this is a race and whoever wins, wins everything."

The pavement test is part of a two-year, $54 million project involving construction of new four-lane highway next to the old two-lane U.S. 30 from Wooster to just outside Orrville.

A groundbreaking was held May 26 at the work site, about 45 miles southwest of Cleveland.

Cunningham said the project is a first for ODOT and gives it a unique opportunity to judge both products under similar circumstances and traffic volumes.

The westbound lanes of U.S. 30 will be made of 16-in. deep asphalt and the eastbound lanes will consist of 10-in. deep concrete. The asphalt costs $5 million and the concrete costs $5.5 million.

The trade group Flexible Pavements of Ohio said its asphalt costs less to install and lasts longer because it can bend without breaking. Group president Fred Frecker said asphalt also is quieter and smoother to drive on.

But the Ohio Concrete Construction Association says it has the strongest, most durable material.

"We don’t refute there is a slight premium you pay for concrete up front," said Roger Faulkner, director of engineering for the trade group. "When you add in all the costs to maintain a road, concrete pavement in the majority of the cases proves to be the most economical choice in the long term."

Most of Ohio’s interstate highways that are now 30 or more years old were built with concrete, though many now have asphalt top layers. The majority of ODOT’s road maintenance projects involve the use of asphalt.

ODOT spent $1.04 billion on asphalt and $1.02 billion on concrete from 1998-2002. The figure includes concrete used for bridges and berms, Cunningham said.

The pavement test on U.S. 30 was inspired by an independent third-party analysis of ODOT’s project selection process that determined the department needed more information on the price of using concrete.

The Hamilton County engineer’s office is conducting a similar test on a road northwest of Cincinnati. The office said after two years, both sides have held up well.