US paving trends – what lessons for Europe?

by Karl Downey, Secretary General EUPAVE

A new report from the Portland Cement Association (PCA) examines paving trends in the United States. Concrete paving's share for roads in the US remains at a level similar to what it was 10 years ago, and is currently at 15.1%. The report notes that the share of concrete versus asphalt is primarily determined by the cost of paving in each material. Interestingly, it is shown that while asphalt prices rise with oil prices, a drop in oil prices results in a lesser drop in asphalt prices. The authors point to three factors for this anomaly: changes in oil refining processes mean less bitumen by-product is being produced; increased demand thanks to the resurging US economy; and a lack of competition between paving industries.

The report notes that, given these market realities in the US, initial costs (as well as life-cycle costs) for urban concrete roads can be lower than those in asphalt.

But what conclusions can be drawn for Europe? Of course, economic conditions in Europe are not the same as in the US, but some definite parallels can be drawn. As in the US, concrete pavements will never suffer from the same price volatility as asphalt. And, like in many US states, road authorities across Europe are often conservative when it comes to pavement type selection, meaning that real competition between industries does not exist in many areas. However, excellent examples of competitive procurement practices do exist in North America. The basic principles of life-cycle costing and alternative bid contracts need to be taken up more in Europe.  Promoting competitive procurement in road construction can help road authorities, as it lowers prices and makes their spending more efficient, as explained in EUPAVE's position paper. Healthy competition is a win-win for everyone - taxpayers, public authorities and industry!

More info:

EUPAVE position paper: “Ensuring healthy competition between pavement industries saves public money”.

PCA report: click here