Moving the Concrete Pavement Industry Forward

Written by Claire Suttles

Founded in 1963, the American Concrete Pavement Association (ACPA) represents the $8 billion concrete pavement industry. ACPA membership is open to concrete pavement contractors, materials and equipment suppliers, and cement companies, consultants, and others involved in the design and construction, rehabilitation, and preservation of concrete pavements.
The ACPA leads a variety of efforts to develop better concrete technology. “Our history has been as a technical and advisory organization helping agencies and helping contractors,” says ACPA President and CEO Gerald F. Voigt, PE.

Overlay technology is an exciting technology that is time tested and has become increasingly popular, especially over the past 10 or so years. It involves the placement of concrete over distressed asphalt, concrete, or composite pavements. “Traditionally, when a pavement showed signs of age and wear, the engineering solution was to replace it with weaker materials before eventually replacing it, but thanks to research and technological advances, we’ve learned that we can use concrete is strategies to resurface existing pavements.” Concrete overlay technology creates an exciting new options. “What we have done in the last decade is refine overlay technology and provide education and outreach, and as a result, we are using concrete overlays as resurfacing options,” Mr. Voigt says. “And that has opened up a lot of new opportunities. We have grown that in the last 10 years to about 15 percent of our market.”

To advance overlay technology, ACPA has worked closely with the National Concrete Pavement Technology Center, and the association’s network of 20 ACPA-affiliated chapters and state paving associations, all with support from the Federal Highway Administration.

Performance Engineered Mixtures is another important focal point for ACPA. “It is really a whole new way of designing concrete for use in pavement,” Mr. Voigt explains. As the industry advances, so does our understanding of how concrete interacts with its environment. For example, “there’ve been some advances in our understanding of how deicing chemicals degrade concrete over time. Part of the performance engineered mixtures effort is to take advantage of that new knowledge and design concretes that are more durable against a harsher regime of deicing chemicals.”

“We’ve got really bright minds in universities around the country that are also part of the team working with industry and public agencies to further explore PEMs,” Mr. Voigt adds. “We have made a lot of progress in that area in a pretty short amount of time.”

Bolstering the workforce
The industry is facing a serious labor shortage. “We are like every other construction-related business area,” Mr. Voigt says. “The [entire] construction industry has been hampered by a lack of available, skilled workers.” Engineers are also in demand because projects are becoming more complex and tech-driven. For example, traditional construction methods such as slip form paving—which uses string lines to guide a paving machine—have been replaced by laser guidance or GPS technology.

“There is a lot more technology in just doing slip form paving,” Mr. Voigt says. “Contractors are hiring engineers to develop a three dimensional model of the pavement [on] a computer that is sitting on the paving machine. And that model is guiding the paving machine.”

The good news is that as the industry becomes more tech-centered, it becomes more alluring to job-seeking millennials. We could even see a resurgence of the golden age of road building. The industry “used to be a very, very exciting thing [during] the Interstate highway construction era,” Mr. Voigt says. “That was big time. And we’d like to see people think of it as big time again. There is a lot of cool technology, but construction has not been [seen as] one of the more exciting or glamorous industries.”

The ACPA hopes to turn this trend around, in part with a new internship program, which has been launched in partnership with Innovative Pavement Research Foundation (IPRF), a 501(c)(3) research and technology organization founded by the association. “Interns for the Future represents a role our association can play in trying to bring some engineering students and other folks [into the industry, and also] bring exposure to the construction industry.” The program combines education with internship opportunities in order to draw in a wealth of new talent. The goal is “to have not just an intern or two, but to have a regiment of interns that we could bring in,” Mr. Voigt says.

Believed to be the first of its kind among trade associations in the United States, Interns for the Future is 50-50 shared initiative among ACPA’s foundation and its regional and state chapter affiliates. The program is designed to attract people who may have an interest in the concrete pavement industry but may never have considered it a career option. During the 12-week internship, participants will experience the industry firsthand, including witnessing new applications of technology in construction and working on technical projects. They will also develop foundational career skills, from résumé preparation to public speaking.

To be eligible for the program, a student must have completed at least two years of classes at an accredited university with a strong reputation in the field of concrete, materials, pavement, engineering, or construction management. Students must demonstrate an interest in the sector and their GPAs must be competitive. A selection panel makes the final admission decisions.

The Emerging Leaders Group (ELG) is another program created to cultivate talent and further professional development. Launched in late 2016, the ELG is helping identify the next generation of leaders within the industry. The group is made up of ACPA members and affiliates under the age of 40 who have been recognized by industry insiders as future leaders. The ELG helps develop these budding leaders and gives them a platform through which to share their ideas and visions for the industry and the ACPA.

Forward thinking
One of the ACPA’s biggest and boldest projects is the creation of an industry wiki. “I think we still are the only industry association that is trying to tackle the building of a wiki for our product, for what we promote,” Mr. Voigt says. “We call it Wikipave* and it has been a big undertaking—maybe bigger than we originally thought.” The ACPA is “taking all the information we had from hundreds of publications and putting it into the wiki. That has been a big challenge [but] I think in the end we are going to have a really useful tool for people to understand our product.”

“Just to give you an idea of the scope and size of that, we have basically taken 50 years of technical and institutional knowledge, and we are migrating all of the relevant information to the wiki,” says ACPA Vice President of Communications Bill Davenport. “It is a massive undertaking and [it will be] the definitive place to go to find technical information about concrete pavement.”

To be sure, the ACPA is planning ahead for a successful future. The association is in the process of developing Vision 2040, which will help guide the industry’s research and development priorities over the next 20 years. “We are going to define a future [and] define a vision and a path forward,” Mr. Voigt says. To develop the plan, the ACPA will collect information from the public, academia, and industry insiders to identify and prioritize the most pressing needs for research and technology.

The effort comes as the previous ACPA-led vision comes to an end. “We just hit the 20 year mark from a similar visioning effort we introduced in 1997,” Mr. Voigt recalls. “That effort was called ‘Creating the Next Generation of Concrete Pavements,’ which addressed things like building without string lines and [utilizing] overlays—things that we are now enjoying the benefit of and which are impacting our industry. I did an analysis of that effort and we accomplished about 80 to 85 percent of what we envisioned 20 years ago.” With so much already accomplished, the ACPA is ready to embark on another two decades of exciting innovations and industry leadership.



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