Without Recycled Coal Ash, Roads Would Cost $100 Billion More

A new economic study by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association has found that the cost of building roads and bridges in the United States will increase by more than $100 billion over 20 years if coal fly ash is no longer available as an ingredient for concrete.

            The 131-page study was based on interviews with every state Department of Transportation and an exhaustive review of the same construction cost data utilized by the Federal Highway Administration. ARTBA showed that fly ash concrete is a mixture of choice for many state and local transportation departments.

Engineers use coal fly ash in their concrete designs because of its performance enhancing and cost-saving benefits. It has also been praised for its environmental benefits as a sustainable building material—putting to use an energy production byproduct that reduces demand for carbon-intensive portland cement, requires less water in the setting process, and would otherwise wind up in a landfill. 

Despite its many documented advantages and widespread use, new proposed disposal regulations may limit or eliminate the availability of coal fly ash.  The ARTBA study was conducted to forecast the potential economic impacts of the loss of fly ash availability in just one U.S. construction market—transportation infrastructure.

Alison Premo Black, ARTBA senior economist and the report’s author, said the excess $5.23 billion annual direct cost includes a $2.5 billion increase in the price of materials and an additional $2.73 billion in pavement and bridge repair work due to the shorter pavement and service life of other portland cement blends.

To put the $5.23 billion figure in perspective, it is almost $2 billion per year more than the federal government currently invests in the Airport Improvement Program and about 13 percent of the federal government’s annual total annual aid to the states for highway and bridge work.

According to Black: “Without the availability of fly ash, American taxpayers would ultimately bear the burden, either paying more for the same level of transportation improve­ments, or dealing with the consequences of a scaled back improvement program."

“The study’s findings should be a real eye-opener for members of Congress and other federal policymakers,” said Bill Gehrmann, president of Headwaters Resources, Inc., whose group commissioned the report.  “Without coal ash, concrete will become more expensive and the environmental footprint of the transportation sector will only increase.  There is nothing ‘green’ or sustainable in such a scenario.”

The complete report can be downloaded by clicking here.

Posted by: on: Sep 12, 2011 @ 11:53