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Which pavement material — asphalt or concrete — do you prefer?

Welcome to the profession's latest “you say tomato, I say tomahto” debate: asphalt vs. concrete. With oil prices on a one-way trip to the moon, the concrete industry's pointing out whenever and however it can that asphalt — so preferred by city, county, and even state DOTs that until five years ago virtually all the nation's roads were made of it — no longer enjoys an initial or life-cycle cost advantage.

Concrete supporters are very clever, too, framing their case around the publicly popular and politically correct term “sustainability.” (For details, see “Asphalt vs. concrete: the fight to pave our roads.”) Who's going to argue against that? But based on your feedback, the messaging doesn't address an equally important factor for the men and women left behind once the paving crews leave: convenience.

The Feb. 29 edition of our e-newsletter asked recipients, “Which pavement material — asphalt or concrete — do you prefer and why?” (See poll results at left.) Virtually all asphalt supporters said it's easier to place and maintain. Those two features are a huge advantage when you're trying to make ends meet and don't have high volume.

Similarly, virtually all concrete supporters mentioned longevity. Several said it's easy to maintain “if installed correctly,” is more readily recycled, and can be made porous. (Actually, both asphalt and concrete have been used to make permeable pavement; see “The trickle-down effect” from our May 2007 issue.)

Someone said that asphalt longevity seems to have decreased, which I assume means the respondent senses a decline in asphalt quality. I don't know if that's true or not, but if record-breaking attendance and seminar ticket sales at last month's World of Asphalt are anything to go by, asphalt's more popular than ever. That or after years of budget cutting, managers can no longer safely postpone major improvements. (By the way, next year's World of Asphalt is scheduled for March 19 – 21 in San Antonio.)

Whatever your preference, you might want to check out the National Pavement Contractors Association at www.pavementpro.com. Formed in 2000, the organization provides a free membership database that's searchable by zip code; sample specifications for things like parking lot striping, asphalt repair, and crack-sealing; and online forums on paving and repairs to sweeping to sealcoating and infrared. They're aimed at contractors, but since many of you self-perform such work you're basically one of them.

Or plan to attend next year's National Pavement Expo Jan. 24 – 26 in Nashville, Tenn.

Stephanie Johnston,
Editor in Chief