November 15, 2019
Op-Ed Submission to the Winnipeg Free Press
Concrete still best-in-class value for taxpayers, roads and the environment
By Linton Mounk, P. Eng., President, Concrete Manitoba, and Michael McSweeney, President and CEO, Cement Association of Canada
We commend the City of Winnipeg’s commitment to find the best value for money for taxpayers, drivers and businesses when it comes to paving local roads.
According to recent news stories in the Free Press, the city is currently weighing the benefits of continuing a decades-old practice of paving roads with concrete. In fact, Winnipeg is home to some of Canada’s first concrete pavements dating back to 1903. Concrete pavement now makes up over 80% of Winnipeg’s street network according to the city, and key infrastructure like the Bus Rapid Transit, Hwy 75, PTH 59 and 101 and the Winnipeg Airport all use concrete pavement.
Since it’s critical that city politicians and officials base their decisions on accurate and reliable information and important for the public to know the facts, we would like to address inaccuracies we saw in recent news stories.
If the city’s bottom line is saving money, reducing harmful emissions, improving safety and sparing drivers the aggravation of roads under constant repair – then concrete is hard to beat, especially in Winnipeg’s harsh climate. Concrete is a green solution that saves money for cities, drivers and taxpayers.
Let’s look at what independent research says about concrete roads:
- Value for tax dollars and taxpayers – reliable and less expensive roads
- Lower energy costs
- Lower emissions with “best-in-class” environmental performance
- Improved Safety and Reliability
- Life cycle approaches reduce long-term costs and environmental impacts
Cities and their taxpayers save money over the life of a road when paved with concrete. In Ontario for example, based on pavement design, they can save about 15% on the initial cost of every kilometer paved with concrete and an extra 51% on road maintenance over a 50- year lifespan. A longer lifespan means less repair and rehabilitation work and better value for each tax dollar spent.
Innovative construction techniques such as fast track concrete or precast concrete panels allow opening roadways on the same day, adding convenience to the equation.
Concrete roads require 66% less energy to construct and reduce lighting needs by up to 24%. They also improve the fuel efficiency of commercial vehicles by up to 7%. Using less energy is better for the environment while reduced fuel consumption saves money and cuts vehicle pollution.
The improved fuel efficiency of concrete roads yields potentially significant reductions in carbon emissions – as much as 12,000 metric tonnes per lane kilometer. That is equivalent to avoiding the consumption of over 5 million liters of gas over the lifespan of the pavement.
And that’s not the only reason why concrete is the best-in-class solution from an environmental perspective. Let’s look at a few more.
In Manitoba, concrete pavement requires 17% less granular base material. Being an inert material, concrete doesn’t emit fumes, which means less air pollution. And being a cooler surface, concrete helps reduce urban temperatures and GHG emissions. Incredibly, concrete naturally absorbs harmful CO2 from the atmosphere.
Innovation is reducing the carbon footprint of cement, which typically represents no more than 10 to 15 percent of a concrete mixture.
Finally, concrete is 100% recyclable, reducing the need to pollute landfills.
Thanks to its slower cooling process, concrete minimizes the potential for “black ice” in the winter. Its brighter qualities improve visibility at night, keeping pedestrians and drivers safer.
Concrete’s strength means virtually no potholes, ruts or low temperature cracking. And this means safer driving conditions and no hydroplaning caused by pooling surface water.
Furthermore, proper concrete pavement mix designs and installation allow for late season placement of concrete pavement and provide durable salt resistance.
When it comes to infrastructure investments, keeping the long-term in mind is critical, both from a financial and an environmental perspective. That’s why adopting a life-cycle approach to decision-making is so important – it helps reduce the temptation to focus only on low cost options designed for short-term political expediency. Life-cycle tools promote longer term taxpayer value.
Tight budgets, aging infrastructure and the added pressures to buy environmentally friendly solutions can make projects more demanding of public and elected officials. But it doesn’t have to be complicated.
It is imperative that science plays a central role in evaluating the financial, economic and environmental impact of our decisions.
The Manitoba concrete industry shares responsibility for shaping prosperous, low carbon and climate resilient communities. We are eager to continue working with city officials to deliver affordable, safe and environmentally friendly solutions for Winnipeggers.