It might not always be visible, but there is an expansive web of buried infrastructure in the United States that plays an important role in preserving the public safety and which is, unfortunately, drastically deteriorating and in dire need of investment.
That infrastructure is, of course, the national grid of transportation, public works, and wastewater systems.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, though the U.S. has made incremental progress toward restoring its national infrastructure, the grade for the country’s cumulative infrastructure is a D+. This illustrates the need for greater investment and further emphasizes the role of organizations like the American Concrete Pipe Association (ACPA) and its members.
Since 1907, ACPA has provided a collective voice, assisting the growth of its members and the industry and supporting the preservation of public safety. The organization is comprised of 125 members who operate over 400 reinforced concrete pipe and box culvert- manufacturing plants across North America and are representative of over 40 countries globally.
ACPA President Douglas Dayton, P.E., notes, “All major areas of focus for the ACPA are identified and prioritized back to the most important element – the public’s safety and reliability and durability of our nation’s infrastructure.” He adds, “When reinforced concrete pipe is specified, the projects you build today are more likely to be sustainable to any future expansions or alterations.”
There are countless reasons to choose concrete pipe. ACPA stands behind a superior product that outperforms other materials in similar environments. Concrete offers design flexibility, safety, strength, and resilience, in addition to being sustainable in nature, which makes it ideal for projects seeking long-term solutions.
“Sustainability is key to preserving our natural resources,” Dayton explains. “Concrete mixtures for pipe products incorporate industrial by-products (such as fly ash and slag cement), which reduces:
• the use of virgin materials,
• the amount of cement needed, and
• the energy needed to manufacture the product.”
He explains that, “The steel used in reinforced concrete pipe is typically made of 90 to 100-percent recycled steel, which is infinitely recyclable. Concrete pipe itself is renewable and 100-percent reusable. Materials that can be recycled at the end of their intended use reduce the amount of waste in landfills and the need for virgin construction material. Due to reinforced concrete pipe’s durability and strength, it can be recycled and reused,” says Dayton.
“In today’s economic environment, designing for long term, sustainable project performance is imperative for the engineer,” explains Dayton, who himself has a great deal of experience in the field. “Unlike some alternative pipe materials, concrete pipe has a proven track record of performance. Concrete pipe will not rust, burn, tear, buckle, float or deflect and is immune to most environmental elements.”
Concrete pipe boasts a 70- to 100-year design life which is why the United States Army Corps of Engineers recommends precast concrete pipe. As Dayton says, “There are numerous examples of installations that have exceeded these parameters. No other pipe material on the market is better understood and more frequently used and depended upon than reinforced concrete pipe.”
Reinforced concrete pipe can withstand extraordinary strain caused by severe weather events and natural disasters. In fires and flash floods, concrete performs as expected and proves its value, especially compared to alternative materials, providing exceptional life-saving performance within evacuation routes for families and first responders.
Fire, flood and taxpayer funds
In the case of fires, concrete is non-flammable. Where concrete is strong and durable under extreme heat, alternate products may collapse, effectively eliminating evacuation routes and preventing first responder access. Further, toxins emitted in the smoke from plastics and other materials can be more fatal than the fire itself.
When it comes to flooding, concrete pipe has several advantages, especially mass and stability. Concrete pipe does not easily float and can withstand the pressures of displaced waters to ensure roadways and public safety are not compromised. Concrete Pipe provides the structure to stay in place when embankments are washed away.
“There is no other more proven, dependable, reliable, or resilient industry that has impacted our industrialized nation more than concrete pipe,” said Dayton. “Concrete pipe is a testament of the past, present and future. It doesn’t float, it doesn’t burn, it has longevity.” As Dayton points out, since there is nothing comparable, that simply proves ACPA’s cause.
A legislative matter which continues to concentrate ACPA’s attention is “open competition” legislation that threatens to alter the role of engineers in the procurement of construction materials for taxpayer-funded projects such as infrastructure.
Over the past several years, legislation promoting open and fair competition in the industry in the procurement process for these taxpayer funded infrastructure projects has been repeatedly introduced in the US House of Representatives as well as at the state level across the country. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned legislation poses a threat to public safety as it diminishes the role of the local Engineer in specifying the materials that best suit the project.
From Dayton’s perspective, “The bill would undermine the ability of the engineers, as well as utilities, local governments and other public works professionals to design infrastructure projects in the manner that best serves the needs of their communities.”
He continued, “Each geographic area is slightly different, and technical specifications reflect those differences. It is important to remember that technical specifications are set by engineers, not politicians, and the purpose of a technical specification is to protect the safety and well-being of the public.”
The professional view
The value concrete pipe offers is second to none. It is available in most markets thanks to the location and reach of numerous ACPA members and their facilities. This enables shorter shipping distances, faster delivery times, and greater availability of product that is specified to meet relevant building codes. Its strength, durability and longevity reduce the need for maintenance and repair.
Technical specifications are developed through research and expertise and validated by testing. This not only protects the public safety, but the investment of public dollars in infrastructure projects, further emphasizing the importance of having local engineers’ input in the decision-making process.
“When we design something, we have to put our P.E. [professional engineer] seal on it,” Dayton explains. “Once we seal that, we’re acknowledging that we’ve selected the materials, and we assume responsibility and any risks of the design and how that material is going to function in that design. If you take that away from the actual designer and have contractors or developers select that material, it’s a major liability issue.”
This has become an even more pressing issue as optimism grows surrounding the approval of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Bill, which was temporarily delayed because of COVID-19. Its approval promises the injection of a great tranche of investment in the national transportation infrastructure – which ACPA and its members are poised to take advantage of – to begin the rebuilding of the national infrastructure and national economy.
Dayton discusses the work of the ACPA Research and Education Foundation in the context of the economy, “Products manufactured by our members and the research into those products help preserve the jobs of thousands of men and women in the concrete pipe industry – nationwide. This is critical during this COVID-19 situation to provide employee stability and welfare as they continue to work to provide economic stability to their families and communities.”
The role of research
ACPA is at the forefront of research and development efforts to advance the innovation, performance and quality of concrete pipe and box culverts. The emphasis is on developing new products, expanding existing offerings and capabilities, and equipping industry members with the resources and data they need to be competitive and relevant, long term.
“The ACPA offers an ongoing best-in-class quality assurance program called the Quality Cast (QCast) Plant Certification Program,” says Dayton. “This 124-point audit inspection program covers the inspection of materials, finished products and handling and storage procedures, as well as performance testing and quality control documentation. Plants are certified to provide storm sewer, culvert pipe – or under a combined sanitary sewer, storm sewer and culvert pipe program.”
Rigorous testing, extensive research and development, and a forward-focused vision make the value of concrete and the ACPA second to none. While concrete stands up to nature’s biggest challenges to keep communities safe and functioning, organizations like ACPA work to ensure it does so in accordance with the highest standards of quality and safety, and principles of sustainability.