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Asphalt Makers Take Turn Before Senate Panel

Months after concrete makers tried to influence the direction lawmakers would turn as they looked to pave Florida’s roads, backers of a competing surfacing material made the case last week that the state has been on the right path all along by using asphalt.

The on-going fight between the industries was briefly knocked off the transportation agenda by the rail package lawmakers dealt with in special session last month, but the paving battle got going again Wednesday as the Senate Transportation and Economic Development Committee heard from the Asphalt Contractors Association of Florida.

During its turn before the panel, the Florida Concrete Association, which is pushing for a bigger market share of state road projects argued that asphalt has a lifespan of about eight to ten years before repaving, compared to a lifespan of about 50 years with limited repair they say concrete roads have.

But ACAF president Ignacio Halley said Thursday they were on the wrong street.

“Asphalt is a product that has been proven in performance,” he said. “It’s a product that is the safest pavement material out there today. It’s got the lowest life cycle cost. It’s the fastest to construct and to maintain. It’s the most economic and environmental safe product out there in that it’s 100 percent recyclable. It’s the smoothest and lightest surface. It creates local jobs.”

The concrete industry has been pushing lawmakers to guarantee at least half of state roads are built using their material, but the asphalt contractors want transportation officials to keep make paving decisions on a case-by-case basis of cost efficiency. That’s a system that has long favored asphalt, which is thought to be cheaper to maintain, which Halley reiterated to the Senate committee.

“Ninety-eight percent of Florida roadways are made of asphalt,” he said. “It can be left in place indefinitely (because) it’s maintained by milling then resurfacing -- we take off the top inches and construct from that point on, which makes the asphalt pavement a very sustainable product.”

Halley continued disputing the concrete industry's numbers about how long various types of road materials can last, saying that Florida’s highways had been highly rated by a group of drivers who spend a lot of time on them: truckers. He added that construction projects using asphalt were less intrusive than concrete.

“Our industry has become a night-owl industry,” he told the lawmakers. “We basically work from 10 o’clock at night until 6 o’clock in the morning. Why? Because we don’t want to have traffic congestions and stuff like that. The fact that we can mill and pave about a mile a night keeps us out on the road less time and makes it a little safer.”

Like the concrete makers, Halley touted the asphalt industry’s local ties, saying “the asphalt industry is composed of mom and pop…operations that have grown through their counties. It’s an industry that is well dug in and very experienced in Florida.”

He added that there were about a hundred more asphalt plants in Florida than cement plants. But Halley conceded that the product that is competing with his industry for lawmakers’ support had value in other areas.

“Concrete plays an extremely important role in transportation and in roadways,” Halley said. “All our bridges are concrete, our sidewalks are concrete, our curb and gutter, most of our pipe, the structure, the sound walls, the barrier walls. But when it comes to the pavement, we’ve got something here in Florida that’s special.”

However, Halley told lawmakers that the decision to build Florida roads with asphalt was not political.

“Sometimes I’m at odds with DOT’s engineers, but they’ve done a magnificent job with their friction forces,” he said. “There are people around the country who are copying what we’re doing here in Florida.”

Florida Concrete and Products Association Chairman-Elect Tim Kuebler disagreed Thursday that the status quo was the way to go in Florida road paving.

"There are always two sides to every issue and scientific data on both sides, but the reality is that concrete does last longer and is a more sustainable and affordable product in long-term transportation planning,” Kuebler said in a statement provided to the News Service of Florida.  “What we are asking for is to allow both products to compete fairly for state transportation projects, and that is a simple statutory change that will save Florida money, create jobs and support a Florida industry.”

However, lawmakers gave no indication Thursday which road they might ultimately take.

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