Spokane Journal of Business

Use of old asphalt debated

City, county, contractors differ over including recycled material in paving projects

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Are the city of Spokane and Spokane County putting down the right mix of materials to pave their roads?

Spokane paving contractors say the city and county need to add recycled asphalt to the paving mix thats laid on roads here. They say it makes sense for environmental reasons and can save both local governments money.

City and county government officials, however, contend that the use of recycled asphalt can shorten the life of new pavinga problem they desperately want to avoid, especially considering the already sorry condition of Spokanes roads.

Its a controversial thing right now, says Jim Smith, principal design engineer in the citys construction services department.

Recycling asphalt is something we should be doing, he says, but on the other hand, we want to make sure the roads will stand up to wear and tear. We want to get the life we design for.

The Spokane City Council touched on the issue a few weeks ago when it discussed specifications for road construction. Mayor Jack Geraghty said questions had arisen about the citys asphalt specifications and what was causing the ruts in the streets. The council asked for a report, and Smith reported back on the specifications the city had been using.

In an interview recently, Smith said specifications in Washington state have allowed the use of recycled asphalt for years, but the city and county have discouraged its use. The issue came to a head recently at the urging of contractors who want to see recycled asphalt used more here, he says.

Contractors say they wouldnt have to use as much virgin aggregate and oil if recycled product were used more widely. In addition, theyve invested money to be able to process old asphalt. For example, Acme Materials & Construction Co., of Spokane, says it has spent a considerable amount of money on equipment to handle recycled material.

Smith says he now expects the city and county to undertake a one-year test that would allow recycled asphalt to be used in base material for roads, which has been done sporadically here, but not in surface paving material. If the test is successful, both governments likely would adopt those specifications as policy, he says.Tons of old asphaltBob Brennan, asphalt division manager at Acme, contends that the move to allow recycled asphalt in road-base material is a good first step. He says, however, that that isnt the best use for the oil in the asphalt because it isnt needed there.

Using recycled asphalt in surface material reuses the oil and would allow for more of the old asphalt to be reused, Brennan says. Most road projects in Spokane and around the state involve resurfacing roads rather than building new ones, essentially the only times base material is used, he says.

Each resurfacing job creates lots of asphalt that could be recycled, he says. For instance, a major resurfacing project on Francis Avenue that Acme did this year created 15,000 tons of the material when the company ground down the old road surface to prepare the road to be repaved.

What do we do with that material? Brennan asks. Now, contractors including Acme store piles of old asphalt that can be used in projects later on.

If the city and county wont let those contractors use the material in repaving projects, eventually it will have to be hauled to a special landfill and dumped, he says. That costs about $90 to $100 a ton, he says.

Brennan contends that using recycled asphalt doesnt cause roads to break up more quickly. He adds that the state Department of Transportation has used recycled asphalt successfully for years.

Keith Metcalf, DOTs assistant regional administrator for construction here, says contractors can use paving material that contains up to 20 percent recycled asphalt on DOT jobs. Generally, DOT requires that a portion of the asphalt ground off a road in a DOT project be used in the repaving of that road, he says.

We havent found any correlation between the use of recycled asphalt and the premature breakdown of roads, Metcalf says. The department has found, however, that heavy use and studded snow tires zap the life out of paved surfaces, he says. Roads dont last as long (these days), but its related to the wear theyre receiving, he says.

The citys Smith says that because the DOT requires contractors to use old asphalt from state roads, its ensured of the quality of the recycled asphalt that goes into its road jobs. He fears contractors will use old asphalt from their stockpiles, which may be of varying quality, and that could lead to ruts, cracks, and other problems, he contends.

DOTs Metcalf says the city and county shouldnt have a problem with Spokane contractors stockpiles since he believes DOT roads would be the major source of those piles.

County Engineer Bill Johns says, however, that the city and county dont want to take a chance on using recycled asphalt in surface material. There are too many unknowns, he says. The savings arent worth it.

  • Marlene Mehlhaff

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