Rubberized asphalt, the onetime pariah of state government officials and the road construction industry, is poised for a comeback—except it never was a hit in the first place.
In 1991, the federal government tried to cram the promising, if not proven, process of road building down the states' throats, via the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, better known as ISTEA.
The rule mandated the use of rubberized asphalt in federally funded pavement projects.
The problem was two-fold—cost, since it added to the expense of using conventional asphalt; and application problems. Several pilot projects failed to live up to expectations, typically because rubberized asphalt was applied incorrectly, with crews using the same methods as conventional asphalt paving.
After the hue and cry from the road construction industry and state officials, Congress killed off the rubberized asphalt idea by refusing to fund it. Individual states generally banned its use. Today things are different.
The cost of conventional asphalt keeps rising, to the point rubberized asphalt is competitive in price. And the material—a combination of crumb rubber or rubber chips and asphalt—offers a number of performance characteristics that beat conventional asphalt.
It is longer-lasting, less prone to cracking, enhances tire traction and has noise dampening properties. Rubberized asphalt still has its naysayers, typically veterans who haven't forgotten the ISTEA debacle.
The material also faces a supply problem, seemingly impossible when one realizes 300 million scrap tires are generated annually. About 8 percent of the tires discarded each year are exported to China and other parts of Asia.
This has an impact on retreaders, makers of recycled rubber goods, as well as rubberized asphalt production.
Two decades ago when ISTEA was a bitter drink for many, when 800 million used tires lay in U.S. stockpiles, who could have predicted that the time would come when the “scrap tire problem” meant a shortage of waste tires?
An amazing turnaround.