Launch Slideshow

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The Price is Right

The Price is Right

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    Richard Bowman leads the three-stage process with a preheater, which heats the asphalt to 360° F. Photos: City of Akron, Ohio

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    Project Supervisor Bernard Varner and Highway Maintenance Superintendent Steve Batdorf examine the machines that were custom-built and delivered to Akron in June 2009. The bureau began using the system by the end of the month.

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    Representatives of AFSCME Local 1360 were willing to work with the bureau, agreeing to select current employees who were interested in being involved in the new venture.

The approach to traditional resurfacing in Akron, Ohio, is not unlike most cities: It advertises for bid annually a 2½-inch mill and full resurfacing project that includes residential, collector, and arterial streets. The program normally is $4 million to $6 million annually, but the rising cost of asphalt has had an adverse affect on the process. The program has been shrinking in recent years to accommodate the higher costs, which increased nearly 30% in just the past two years.

So in 2008 the Akron Bureau of Public Works reduced its specification of 2½-inch of removal and replacement by 1 inch, stretching the bureau's resurfacing dollars and enabling it to resurface 50 miles of roadway last year — double that of previous years.

Costs continued to rise in 2009 for mill-and-fill resurfacing projects, and the bureau decided to bid out the asphalt reheat/recycling process.

The bureau chose a process that recycles asphalt by first cutting the material by lifting, rolling, and feeding it into a center mill before feeding it into an onboard asphalt-mixing plant, where it injects a specified amount of emulsion into the mix. The asphalt is then fed into a paver. Other asphalt recycling methods, such as cold-in-place and hot-in-place, scarify or rake the asphalt and mix it with new material before rolling it back into the street. Typically those methods require covering the product with additional virgin materials. This process is utilized as a final surface.

“We had discovered the asphalt reheat process five years ago when we bid out the heating and scarifying process,” says Steve Batdorf, the city's highway superintendent.

During that bidding process, Angelo Benedetti Inc. (ABI) bid an alternate process that provided for recycling the existing asphalt and relaying it. The bid came in low at $4/square yard back in 2004, and the city began experimenting with the new recycling process on 100,000 square yards, or nine center line miles across the city.

“We were satisfied with the results and continued to bid the process the next few years,” explains Kevin Miller, resurfacing supervisor. “The process held up as well as the regular mill-and-fill resurfacing process with heavy traffic loads and comparable cracking.”

The bureau hoped to continue in 2008, but ABI had shifted from contracting to the manufacturing of the asphalt recycling equipment. In June 2008 owner Al Benedetti, Deputy Public Works Manager Joseph Asher, and Batdorf began discussing the benefits of purchasing the asphalt recycling equipment for the city itself.

By November 2008 the city had signed a contract to purchase the asphalt recycling equipment. It consists of a preheater and 40-foot mobile asphalt plant as well as a paver (which reheats it to maintain a workable temperature and then cuts into the specified depth). The machine feeds the material into a grinder that subsequently feeds it into the drum mixer, where emulsions are added to rejuvenate the asphalt. Finally, the paving screed provides a paving matt for the last step in the process, just as traditional pavers would.

The city decided to purchase the equipment in light of potential savings to the city as well as the ability to resurface more streets. “The return on this investment is strong,” Batdorf explains.

Although other Ohio agencies — including the Ohio DOT, the city of Lakewood, and Lake County—have contracted with ABI to provide the service, Akron is the first city nationwide to purchase the equipment and perform the work with its own city employees.

The purchase of the equipment dovetails with Mayor Donald Plusquellic's new initiative to create a “Greenprint” for Akron, part of a commitment signed by 916 mayors across the country titled the “Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement.”

The complete asphalt recycling system costs the city nearly $2 million. “We expect to save $7 million over the next 10 years using this process,” Batdorf says. The system was funded by the city's capital budget as a part of the regular resurfacing program. The bureau plans to reconstruct about 450,000 square yards during the first two years. “According to our projections, we will achieve a complete return on investment in that time.”

Making this purchase took some convincing, though. Service Director Richard Merolla, Deputy Service Directors John Valle and Ron Williamson, and Public Works Manager Paul Barnett were concerned about city crews performing work that historically had been contracted out. Among other concerns were quality and productivity.

The bureau negotiated a minimum of 30 days of training from ABI and a one-year warranty on the equipment. Other concerns included union rules and regulations that could hamper productivity and potential success.

The new process provides eight jobs. “If we would not have brought this process in-house we may have lost eight positions to the most recent layoffs that occurred in the city,” Batdorf adds.

So far the new process has worked. In the first month alone crews averaged 1,400 square yards/day. By the end of the second month productivity increased 55%, with the daily average rising to 2,100 square yards, and Barnett expects the average to reach 2,250 square yards daily by the end of this season.

The equipment is expected to last a minimum of 10 years — saving the city more than $7 million and allowing personnel to pave more streets than through traditional methods.

— Joseph Asher is the former deputy public works manager for Akron, Ohio.