A concrete alternative to asphalt roads

The hum of tires on cement is music to Michael McSweeney’s ears. And the president and CEO of the Cement Association of Canada was in Red Deer on Wednesday to promote that sound.

The hum of tires on cement is music to Michael McSweeney’s ears. And the president and CEO of the Cement Association of Canada was in Red Deer on Wednesday to promote that sound.

McSweeney is in the midst of a nearly year-long campaign to encourage the use of cement across Canada.

On Tuesday, he met with municipal officials from Edmonton, St. Albert and Strathcona County, and after chatting with Red Deer councillors and administration, he was heading north to Fort McMurray.

Next week, he’s slated to visit Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

“Our target audience is municipal officials, architects and engineers,” said McSweeney, describing his pitch as one that touches on the economic and environmental advantages of concrete over other building materials.

At first glance, he acknowledged, concrete may seem a more costly option to alternatives like asphalt. But concrete roads last much longer — up to 35 to 50 years — and require less maintenance work, he pointed out.

“I’m trying to advocate that municipal councillors should be looking at what’s called life-cycle assessment when they do capital projects.”

McSweeney added that concrete typically uses more local inputs: labour, sand and aggregate, with a pair of Alberta plants producing cement. This means reduced transportation requirements and fewer greenhouse gases.

Vehicles travelling on concrete roads also experience less friction than they do on asphalt, he continued.

“You can save about three per cent in fuel costs, on trucks.”

And because concrete roads are light-coloured, they reflect more light, he said.

“You require 22 per cent less lighting on concrete pavement than you do on asphalt pavement.”

McSweeney is also pitching concrete as a desirable material for municipal buildings, from sports arenas to libraries.

That’s because its insulating factor is about eight per cent better than is the case for wood frame construction, which reduces energy costs and greenhouse gases.

Concrete buildings also last longer, he said.

McSweeney, who is a former Ottawa city councillor, thinks the Cement Association of Canada’s message is getting out.

“It’s becoming more and more common,” he said of concrete.

“If you look at the United States, I think 60 per cent of the U.S. highways are concrete. Winnipeg uses concrete in the majority of their roads. In Ontario, the 400-series of highways is done in concrete.”


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