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Contractor (December 2010) Concrete Roads: Getting the Message Across

01 Dec 2010

Rob Gaimster
Cement & Concrete Association of New Zealand (CCANZ)

For many years now CCANZ has advocated for the adoption of concrete roads in New Zealand. The economic and environmental benefits of “rigid pavements” are numerous and compelling, particularly as the Roads of National Significance (RoNS) begin to take shape.

Concrete’s durability offers any investment in our roading network significant potential returns. A concrete road’s extended service life, low maintenance and reduced fuel consumption benefits are all well documented and persuasive economic factors for the uptake of concrete roads within the RoNS.

Based on recommendations from the New Zealand Treasury, the NZTA has adjusted to 8% percent per annum (from 10%) the Economic Evaluation Manual’s discount rate by which the cost and benefits of infrastructure projects are determined over time. The evaluation period for infrastructure has also been extended from 25-years to 30-years. A lower discount rate would most likely favour infrastructure projects that reduce the total cost of maintaining and operating the network, that is to say, those major infrastructure projects that require the long service-life afforded through concrete.

Both these economic assessment factors for infrastructure projects now more accurately consider the range of advantages offered by concrete’s durability. Even so, they are still out of kilter with overseas practice. For instance, the current discount rates used by the UK Highways Agency are 3.5% up to 30-years, and then 3.0% from 31 to 60-years.

From an environmental perspective the performance of concrete roads is also very encouraging. Along with research supporting concrete roads as requiring minimal maintenance and therefore causing less congestion and associated exhaust emissions, concrete roads also enhance the fuel efficiency of heavy vehicles by reducing rolling resistance. Furthermore, a recent whole-of-life study also identified concrete manufacture as requiring less primary energy, and therefore generating less greenhouse gases, than alternative roading materials.  Construction technology has also advanced sufficiently over the past decade to address the issue of surface noise.

CCANZ has been working closely with the NZTA and Road Controlling Authorities (RTAs) to convey the benefits of concrete roads, and to date the response has been encouraging.

Such advocacy work within the government relations space poses many unique challenges, each of which demands appropriate communication strategies and tactics in response. To assist with work in this area it is always beneficial to examine the methods employed by similar organisation based overseas. As such, I was intrigued with the approach adopted by the Portland Cement Association (PCA – www.cement.org), the voice of America’s cement and concrete industry, in its recent attempts to advance the uptake of concrete roads.

By running a billboard campaign to inform the motoring public that choosing concrete instead of asphalt is “the smart choice, dramatically decreasing construction time and congestion – in addition to the best use of taxpayer funds” the PCA have chosen to directly target the road user.

The campaign, which ran mid-2010 (northern hemisphere summer), sought to leverage the situation which saw drivers around Minneapolis and St. Paul experience delays along the I-94 corridor due to the third asphalt resurfacing in the last two decades.

Studies have shown that in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area alone, traffic congestion wastes more than 47 million gallons of fuel each year and annual CO2 emissions attributed to congestion delays total more than .4 million metric tons.  These studies also confirm that concrete roads last an average of three times longer than asphalt.

Commenting on the billboards, Douglas Burns, executive director, PCA North Central Regional Office, says “The purpose of this campaign is to raise awareness of the long term durability and first cost-competitiveness of concrete in all applications, including road construction and maintenance programs.”

“Asphalt prices have increased markedly and the application of concrete overlays for maintenance and rehabilitation is being increasingly adopted as a more economical, longer lasting option.”

Direct communication with the consumer remains a relatively rare strategy for construction material manufacturers and their industry associations.  However, with the case for concrete roads so compelling across all areas of economic, social and environmental endeavour, engaging with the general public as the primary stakeholder may become more prevalent.

Article appeared in Contractor magazine.