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Connecting Our Transportation Systems

The role of concrete in connecting us to our daily lives and keeping our economy moving

The roadways and airstrips connecting our nation are integral to our society and daily lives. We expect smooth drives and safe landings, yet we rarely stop to think about the foundation of those expectations: the best material that can be used to surface roads, runways and other infrastructure.

Concrete pavements are a staple of our infrastructure – a durable, economical and sustainable solution for our roadways, airstrips, military bases, parking lots and sidewalks. Additionally, concrete pavements offer many safety benefits to drivers.

Durability

Simply put, concrete pavements have the longest lifespan of any paving material. It can withstand the freezing winters of the upper Midwest to the scorching summers of the Southwest, with an average service life of 30 to 50 years.

  • A survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that concrete pavements last 29.4 years before a major rehabilitation is required – compared to asphalt, which requires major rehabilitation after 13.8 years.

 

Sustainability

Concrete pavements consume minimal materials, energy and other resources throughout its lifespan, giving it a lower overall energy footprint, and offers better fuel efficiency for drivers. Concrete pavements have a lower energy footprint associated with production, delivery and maintenance than asphalt pavement.

  • Concrete’s lighter color reduces the amount of power necessary for illumination and mitigates the urban heat island effect.
  • Tires driving over smoother roads get better mileage per tank of gas; the overall better condition of concrete pavement compared to asphalt gives drivers better roads and better mileage.
  • Concrete can be 100% recycled at the end of its service life, making it a renewable pavement option.

 

Economical

Concrete pavements require minimal materials and energy for initial construction and do not require repeated resurfacing, spot repairs or patching. Compared to other road surfacing materials which require constant maintenance, concrete is cheaper to use at the outset and less expensive throughout its lifespan because it does not require extensive upkeep.

  • It was estimated that using life-cycle cost analysis for pavements alone can save an average $91 million for every $1 billion spent, or 9.1 %, when comparing equivalent concrete and asphalt pavement alternatives.
  • The use of concrete pavement is less disruptive to traffic – the construction of concrete pavements does not require lengthy lane closures and roads can be reopened in as short as six hours.
  • Concrete pavement can dramatically increase the life of transportation systems, cutting the amount of yearly repairs and spreading them out over longer time periods.

 

Safety

Concrete pavement offers a number of safety benefits, including:

  • Deteriorating pavement impacts stopping distance and increases the number of work zones for repairs. Because of its longer life, there is less need for closures for repairs. Asphalt pavements require regular maintenance every two to four years to correct rutting, cracking, potholes, and other problems, whereas concrete pavements typically need only minor rehabilitation at 12 to 16 years.
  • Concrete pavement is easier to see due to its lighter color and reflects more light, making it easier to see objects on the road as well.
  • Concrete pavement ensures shorter vehicle stopping distances in wet weather and features a skid resistant surface. Concrete pavements never rut or “washboard,” like asphalt pavement, and both of these features reduce the dangers of hydroplaning and provide better, long-term traction.

For more information about how concrete contributes to a more resilient nation, visit Building Safer, Stronger Communities.

For more information about the sustainability benefits of concrete pavements, visit Reducing Vehicle Emissions and Improving Fuel Efficiency.

Building Safer, Stronger Communities

The role of concrete in helping communities withstand natural disasters, ensuring stronger buildings and meeting the challenges of climate change

Concrete structures play a critical role in making communities stronger and safer. Concrete is the best construction material to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events and disasters. When compared to other building materials – there is no contest.

Durability

One word often associated with concrete is durability. There are two aspects of durability. One is the ability to stand up to normal wear and tear and last a long time. The other is to resist extreme events like natural (or man-made) disasters. Concrete is the best choice for construction:

  • Concrete lasts longer and costs owners much less in maintenance and repairs over the lifetime of the building.
  • It can be used for construction in all climates. It is non-combustible and does not rot, warp, mold or sag when exposed to moisture over time.

 

Resiliency

One of the safest places to be during a major storm is in a reinforced concrete building. In fact, most safe rooms and shelters are made with concrete. A structure’s resiliency, be it residential, commercial or public property, is determined by whether occupants can safely shelter there during natural disasters, and whether the structure itself can survive. If a structure can be repaired rather than replaced following a disaster, it’s a faster and less expensive return to normal for the residents of the homes and a quick return to business operations for commercial establishments.

Concrete can be incorporated into structures in several ways to make them more durable and disaster resistant:

  • Using concrete walls, floors and roofs offers an unsurpassed combination of structural strength and wind resistance.
  • Concrete is non-combustible and concrete walls, floors and roofs are given a good fire rating by the International Code Council. Most concrete structures (those with a thickness of 3 to 5 inches) are more fire resistant than structures built with other materials, making them more likely to withstand fires and giving occupants more time to safely evacuate.
  • Concrete is not subject to rot, which would occur in wood when exposed to warm, wet conditions.
  • Finally, hardened exterior finishes, like those offered by concrete, for walls and roofs of a home or business provide the best combination of strength and security.

Resilient communities start with comprehensive planning and a preference for robust structures with long service lives. More durable buildings with resilient features promote community continuity.

Lifecycle costs

Over the life of a building, the expected cost of maintenance and post-disaster repair can exceed initial building costs—making an economic case for investing up front in resilient construction. Although concrete is cost competitive when making initial decisions about building materials, the overall cost of construction is less about materials and more about labor and time spent making repairs and other upkeep on the structure.

Sustainability through resiliency

The most sustainable building is the building that is only built once. Buildings and structures with resilient design and materials are not only better able to recover following disasters, such as hurricanes or fires, they are also the new “green” buildings. Builders, architects and designers have come to recognize that more durable public buildings, private homes and businesses – often built with concrete to resist damage from natural disasters – also reduce the impact our communities have on our planet.

Resilient structures are good for the planet because their environmental footprint can be spread over many decades. Building more resiliently can help keep materials out of landfills, preventing organic material, such as timber, from decomposing and generating landfill gas (LFG). LFG contains roughly 50% methane, which is more harmful than CO2.

 

For more information about how concrete creates resilient transportation networks, visit Connecting Our Transportation Systems.

For more information about the sustainability properties of concrete, visit Sustainability Practices in the Cement and Concrete Industry.

Enhancing the Way We Access and Manage Water

The role of concrete in providing greater conservation and access to our water resources

Climate change predictions suggest that in the future, our world can expect to experience longer drought periods and larger flood events. With the continuous growth of our global population, the need to conserve and recycle as much fresh water as possible is critical. The structures that allow us to safely store and use water, as well as protect our cities from floods, rely on and are improved by concrete. Concrete structures play a critical role in water resource projects, enabling access to water and improving quality of life.

When creating structures to maintain our access to water, it is important to select a building material that provides the safest, strongest and most durable option. Cement and concrete are the foundation of strong and safe reservoirs, dams and canals.

Reservoirs and storage tanks

Reservoirs store water for irrigation, drinking water, waste management and industrial uses. Cement and concrete are the ideal materials for building reservoirs – cement creates sturdy and nearly impermeable structures, and concrete can withstand great amounts of pressure, so it doesn’t wear down. Concrete can also be used to make storage tanks for clean drinking water. These tanks can be covered and safely store water for long periods of time.

Dams

Dams play a pivotal role in controlling floods and protecting areas in flood plains, as well as providing water for irrigation, drinking or hydro-electric power. The United States currently has more than 80,000 dams in service. Concrete is the material of choice for dams. And while the Hoover Dam is often what comes to mind when people think concrete dam, concrete is also used to reinforce earthen dams too, acting like armor plating to protect earthen dams from washing out or failing when overtopped by floodwaters. For example, concrete lines the emergency spillways in the earthen Oroville Dam – the U.S.’s tallest dam.

Liners

Reservoirs, canals and other water-retaining ground structures need reliable protection from leakage. One way to provide that protection is through the use of concrete liners, which provide both long-term, durable solutions, while also enhancing the performance of the structure.

Liners are employed in a wide variety of applications, including ponds, reservoirs, landfills, canals and facings for dams and spillways. We even see these protective barriers beneath streets, buildings or on the surface of reservoirs to protect from pollution.

For more information about the sustainability properties of concrete, visit Sustainability Practices in the Cement and Concrete Industry.

For more information about the benefits and resilient properties of concrete structures, visit Building Safer, Stronger Communities.