The debate goes on: Which is better, concrete or asphalt? While there is no cut-and-dried answer, a smart public works official will consider the following questions before selecting a material for the next road project: Which pavement option is better for my specific application? Which will be more cost-effective for me? Which will last longer, decreasing lifetime maintenance costs? Which do I and my team have experience working with? Do I want to fully replace, or rehabilitate?

Before a public works (or street maintenance, or road repair) department can decide whether to use concrete or asphalt in a specific application, the department manager must arm himself with information to help him make the best choice.

“There are three main factors to consider: initial cost, time to first rehabilitation, and cost of total reconstruction or major rehabilitation at the 40- to 50-year mark,” said Dave Newcomb, P.E., PhD, vice president of research and technology with the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), which is based in Lanham, Md. Similar to calculating the depreciation of a vehicle or other asset (think GASB 34), the cost of the installation—whether it's concrete or asphalt—along with the long-term maintenance must be considered.

“If we get communities to base roadway design on total life of pavement and total capacity, concrete and asphalt are comparable in many ways,” said Scott Haislip, director of streets and roads with the American Concrete Pavement Association (ACPA), headquartered in Skokie, Ill.

Next page: Crunching the Numbers