Money for roads prompts counties to study concrete options (Video)
They stood under the hot sun - some in suits and loafers, and others in jeans and boots, but they all wore hard hats.
The county judges, commissioners, city officials and engineers shouted to be heard over the rumble of the construction site as they talked about a seemingly forgotten mix of concrete.
Though it is not new, roller-compacted concrete has not been widely used on Texas roads - but no one really knows why.
Using less water than standard concrete mixes and a different process for applying the material, roller-compacted concrete is stronger than traditional mixes. And right now, it can be as cheap or cheaper, depending on the size of the project, said Jan Prusinski, executive director of the Cement Council of Texas.
Learning about all the options for paving is especially important because Gov. Rick Perry signed into law Senate Bill 1747, which will allocate a total of $225 million of state money to repair county roads across Texas damaged by oil and gas traffic, said DeWitt County Judge Daryl Fowler.
With that money in mind, the search for the best paving methods will continue, which is why commissioners and engineers from DeWitt County made it out to one of the roller compacted concrete demonstrations at the new Pioneer Natural Resources facility off U.S. Highway 77, just north of Victoria.
Kevin Skillern, manager for facilities and administrative services at Pioneer, opened up the facility, which is in the process of paving a large lot, to the crowd so they could see the concrete up close.
Used on the Port of Houston, area dams, military bases and even the Autobahn in Germany, roller compacted concrete is exceptionally strong and requires little maintenance over the years - all benefits for roads heavily traveled by oil and gas traffic.
Skillern said the unique concrete was even cheaper than hauling in gravel to use at the facility, saving the company about 20 percent compared to the other options.
However, the process could be more expensive when building roads, said David Underbrink, an engineer with Naismith Engineering, a consulting company working with DeWitt County on road studies.
Pioneer was able to put a cement batch plant on site, but for roads, material would need to be hauled in, making the process costly for smaller projects.
"It is expensive to put that down. It is not the cheapest thing around. So it needs to be weighed out, the costs and the benefit. It is very strong, so it is really good for the very heavily trafficked roads. ... For some of the lighter traveled roads, it would be very expensive to put down because it would not get used for the strength it offers," Underbrink said.
Until recently, asphalt was a cheaper option than concrete, said Prusinski. But skyrocketing oil prices have also increased the price of asphalt because it contains petroleum.
Another cost disadvantage for roads affected by the Eagle Ford Shale traffic is that the counties would need to pave at least a couple of miles at a time for the method to be cost effective. That is often difficult to do because county officials struggle to patch the roads a little at a time, said Don Morrow, a senior engineering assistant with Naismith Engineering.
Kennard Hill, who manages the Brazoria County road crews, came to the demonstration to see whether the concrete is something the county could use on its roads. He said it would probably be a good option for building new roads, but keeping the cars off the roads for 24 hours while the concrete sets would not be an option.
Fowler, one of the advocates of Senate Bill 1747, said DeWitt County would continue to weigh all options before making a decision.
"The one thing I am certain of is we can't afford to throw away money, so we are still shopping for the right mix of product," Fowler said.