Everything You Wanted to Know about Asphalt… and More

Sawyer paving plant in Salem

Amazing facts about asphalt… The petroleum byproduct was used as a preservative in mummy wrappings in ancient Egypt. Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C., was the first street in the United States to paved with asphalt; the year was 1876.

These days, as the Commonwealth Transportation Board learned Wednesday from Richard Schreck, executive vice president of the Virginia Asphalt Association, 97% percent of all Virginia primary roads are paved with the material. The 122 asphalt plants in the state employ 6,500 workers and generate $238 million in payroll. Including all of the products and services it purchases — aggregates to mix with the asphalt, trucks to haul it — industry revenues exceed $1 billion a year.

Yet the asphalt industry has fallen on hard times, Schreck said in his presentation. The private sector, which uses asphalt to pave parking lots and private roads, remains in a deep slump. Asphalt plants are operating at only 35% capacity. State road spending, which currently accounts for 58% of revenues, is keeping the industry afloat.

Asphalt is advantageous as a road-paving material because it can be finely engineered to achieve specific performance characteristics, Schreck said. Among its many virtues, he added, asphalt is in theory 100% recyclable. In actual practice, about 80% of the asphalt applied to Virginia roads is recycled. The industry works closely with the Virginia Department of Transportation’s research center in Charlottesville to develop innovative applications such as road surfaces that make less noise when vehicles drive over them to “cold,” on-site recycling of asphalt on repaving jobs.

But the industry sounded less than progressive under questioning from CTB members. “Are you taking advantage of the materials revolution” to develop better products, asked Douglas Koelemay, Northern Virginia district represenative.

“We haven’t begun to scratch the surface” of asphalt’s potential, responded Schreck. But asphalt companies don’t do much research themselves, and universities are cutting back their asphalt labs.

Roger Cole, Richmond district representative, asked if asphalt companies used financial hedging techniques to guard against price fluctuations in commodities such as petroleum. Not really, said Schreck. “There are too many external factors.”

Asphalt’s main competition as a road-building material is concrete. Concrete is rarely used as a surface material anymore but VDOT still relies upon it as a foundational material for high-performance roads.


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  1. larryg Avatar

    ” “We haven’t begun to scratch the surface” of asphalt’s potential, responded Schreck. But asphalt companies don’t do much research themselves, and universities are cutting back their asphalt labs.”

    you mean Obama was “right” when he said “you didn’t do it all by yourself, you had help”?

    holy moly

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Barak Obama’s comments were so spine tinglingly stupid that they barely deserve a response.

      Nobody has ever claimed that they did everything themselves. Never. Not once. So, when he claims that people didn’t enjoy success without there being a government of the United States he is contradicting a position that nobody holds. Needless to say, the sycophants who follow Obama around hoping to touch the golden cloth of his being see these comments as some type of brilliance. Everybody else recognizes the hyper-politicized, class warfare horse crap that has come to symbolize this failed president.

      49% of American income earners pay no federal income tax. None. The Army, Navy, Dept of Agriculture, Federal Highway Administration, etc are all free to almost one half of working Americans.

      By paying anything in federal income taxes you are already contributing more than one half of the people who work.

      Beyond simply paying anything, the top 10% of income earners in the United States pay 71% of all federal income taxes. That’s today – after the so-called Bush tax cuts. The wealthiest 25% pay 87.3% of all federal taxes.

      Of course, under the brilliant Obama Administration, only 45.4% of all Americans worked in 2010 – the lowest percentage since 1983.

      So, of all Americans – 45.4% work and only 51% of them pay any federal income taxes. In other words, the federal benefits enjoyed by all Americans are paid for by only 23.2% of all Americans.

      The question has never been whether the 23.2% of Americans who work and pay federal income taxes ever had help from the government. In fact, this relatively small percentage of Americans pays for everything.

      The real question is why the percentage of those who enjoy the benefits of being an American without paying anything is so high. 76.8% of all Americans enjoy the benefits of the federal government provided through taxes paid by 23.2% of Americans. Some are too young to work, some are too old. However, there are a whole lot of people who pay nothing because they have decided to drop out of the work force by retiring early, take jobs below their skill sets because they don’t want to suffer the personal inconvenience that hard work entails.

      Any American between 22 and 65 years old should be charged a “citizenship fee”. Only people with nearly no personal assets should be excused from paying that fee. Everybody else is protected by our military, benefits from food inspections, etc. The real question for President Obama should be why adults with money in their bank accounts are allowed to freeload on the United States.

      1. reed fawell Avatar
        reed fawell

        Well said, and Right on, Brother!

        1. reed fawell Avatar
          reed fawell

          PS – On the points you raise, Federalist Paper #10 is quite informative. Mr. Obama is the very sort that James Madison constructed our Constitutional Structure to thwart, prevent, and deny.

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    The CTB is an unethically organized, un-democratic, non-representative, unelected and unaccountable organization. Nothing it says or does should hold any moral weight with anybody who has even a gram of respect for the democratic process. Douglas Koelemay should do the honorable thing and resign in protest. Nobody from Northern Virginia should accept nomination to the CTB until the near criminal Clown Show in Richmond reorganizes the CTB in accordance with Virginia’s current population distribution.

  3. Richard Avatar

    35% capacity. Same with any road or subdivision business. Government contracts are keeping a lot of them going. Similar story for any housing based industry. Alarm systems, pools, refrigerators, yard services. It’s amazing how much of the economy was based on housing. What I want to know is where did all the money go? That $100,000 extra that I paid for my house went somewhere. Was it the asphalt man, the road engineers, the real estate developer, the mortgage broker, the real estate agent, the carpenters and contractors, the landowner, the lawyers who did the deals, the mortgage banks, or the investment banks/brokers (the mortgage bundlers and derivative marketers)? How many years will it take till it comes back to the pre-2008 level?

    1. Good question — where *did* that money go?

  4. larryg Avatar

    re: the government “helped” you. You know, in theory the countries that are best suited for real free markets are those countries who don’t yet have big, complex governments, regulations, taxes, etc but guess what most of those countries have terrible infrastructure, no protection of property rights, no rule of law and in general lack all the things that we take for granted.

    We provide the enabling environment for some of the most effective entrepreneurial people and companies in the world.

    And that defines the difference between an advanced country and a 3rd world country.

    It’s the government that provides the enabling structure for an solid entrepreneurial economy and if you don’t believe this go to a 3rd world country – like Haiti and see how a country without a real govt “works”.

    The President spoke the truth. DJ himself “blames” the govt for not “fixing” road congestion, the electric grid, and heaven knows what else.

    Having said that – BO.. did step in it…

  5. larryg Avatar

    re: “where did the money go”?

    in terms of “job creation”, many jobs were “created” by the housing boom, right?

    I think this goes to prove that job creation is not all it’s cracked up to be.


  6. accurate Avatar

    As for BO, he messed up … again, but what can you expect from the worst president in the history of the United States.

    BUT – that is not why I’m commenting on this post, no I know a bit about asphalt and even more about concrete. Up in Oregon, with a milder temperature (in the summer) we use asphalt for the majority of paving. In Texas with our higher summer temperatures, concrete is KING. There is a hybrid that is entering the market, it’s a combination of asphalt and concrete (I don’t know the chemistry) but it is spread like asphalt but has most of the positive qualities found in concrete (like being more temperture resistant). It’s still a fairly new product, so gearing up to be able to produce it and bring it to a job site is still fairly new, as is selling it to the customer. I was impressed with the dog-and-pony show that I was exposed to but haven’t seen it being used … just yet.

  7. larryg Avatar

    the Achilles heel of concrete seems to be the edges of each slab pour after thousands of tractor trailers have pounded on it and deformed it.

    It happens quicker in regions that have winter which causes contraction and expansion but it also happens in Southern states with less or no winter – just takes longer to happen but it does happen eventually.

    once that happens, there are no easy fixes other than ripping up the concrete.

    this is why you’ll see miles and miles of one direction of an interstate closed and the pavement removed back down to dirt.

    the big problem is those boundaries between the sections and Obama is correct.

    Who is going to pay to research that problem ?

    why jeeze…lookee here:

    Virginia’s Smart Road Project

    look at this – a Socialist concept for sure – having the state doing research that ultimately will help private industry !

    and look at what they do:

    All-weather testing capabilities-snow, ice, rain-using 75 snow-making towers.

    Variable lighting section to study effects of lighting technologies on driving visibility and ITS equipment.

    Advanced communications system including a local-area wireless network interfaced with a fiber-optic backbone.

    Varied terrain, including a six percent grade, a range of elevations, and several bridges, all of which will provide extensive sensor-testing parameters.

    Experimental pavement sections – both concrete and asphalt to assist in the characterization of pavement lifetime, long- and short-term performance, behavior under dynamic loading, and instrumentation assessment.

    Turnarounds at each end of the test bed to allow for continuous driving.

    what a bunch of commie-socialists taking people’s hard earned money and spending it on this kind of crap!

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