Black gold: City officials may have found a new way to pave
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Thousands of dollars are lying all over the streets of Pittsburgh, and an Ohio company has a machine that can scoop them up. Sound like a scam?
A visit by city officials to Angelo Benedetti Inc. in Akron found a promising prospect for future street paving. The company owns the patent on a tandem machine that re-uses 100 percent of old road surfaces and adds just 1 percent of new material to produce a clean, smooth stretch of street.
Two big machines work together, one behind the other. The 34-ton preheater in front heats the old asphalt surface under it to 400 degrees; the 46-ton recycler follows, scooping up the top two inches of paving material, grinding it, heating it and turning it into a fresh layer back on the road.
Re-using the old asphalt saves the natural resources it takes to create the petroleum-based material and eliminates the need to dispose of old asphalt in landfills. The company says the machines run on propane and use 55 percent less energy than conventional methods.
Besides being green, the machines can save some green, according to City Council's budget director, William Urbanic, who estimated it would cost about $42,000 to recycle each mile of road. Today the city spends $300,000 per mile to remove and replace old road surfaces.
With 861 miles of asphalt streets, the city needs to repave 86 miles a year to hit them every 10 years. But high costs have prevented the city from doing that; this year's paving budget of $9.5 million can handle only 32 miles.
If the recycler works 80 days a year, it could cover 20 miles for $840,000, taking a sizable chunk out of the annual street paving to-do list. But that's not the total cost. Pittsburgh would have to buy the machines, $2 million for the pair, not an insignificant sum.
The city's five-year financial recovery plan noted that fluctuations in asphalt prices and inefficiencies involved in buying it from a private plant present some difficulties. It raises the possibility of Pittsburgh returning to the asphalt business -- an earlier plan forced it to sell its old asphalt plant.
Meanwhile, city officials have made two trips to Akron to see the Benedetti. Investing in a more efficient paving system may be a better alternative.
First Published August 17, 2009 12:00 am