Green Roads Construction: Are Contractors Our Roadblock?

Posted on July 21st, 2011 by

Every year, the United States paves roughly 32,000 lane miles of road. Building each lane mile of road requires 25,000 tons of crushed stone and emits 1,200 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. After considerable research, a conservative estimate has been made that building our roads emits roughly 38,760,000 tons of CO2 every year. Clearly, the environmental impacts of building our roads and highways is tremendous.

Luckily, some innovative ideas have cropped up to minimize the environmental – and economic – impacts of building our roads. These ideas range from using old rubber tires as road filler to incorporating recycled glass into the asphalt base. Even more innovative is the use of hot in-place recycling, a technique that recycles asphalt to repave a road on location. But these green methods are only used a fraction of the time that conventional methods are used.

With so many great ideas buzzing around us, we couldn’t help but wonder why all of these innovative green methods aren’t getting the attention, and use, they deserve. After digging into the road construction industry a bit, we realized that it’s actually contractors that are holding us back.Here’s how they’re blocking the path to green road construction. A while back, contractors negotiated a special contract stipulation, known as “cost-plus” pricing, into the road construction bidding process. It was developed to keep contractors from having to deal with the variable price of asphalt. Cost-plus pricing stipulates that contractors are to be paid for their labor plus the cost of the asphalt for every job. As a result, contractors that use more asphalt on a project make more money.

This creates a disincentive for contractors to use eco-friendly methods of construction that require less asphalt. With no incentive to use greener methods of roads construction, these innovative ideas aren’t given a fair shake in the bidding process. And as a result green road construction is caught at an impasse.

Written by Derek Singleton, Construction Software Market Analyst for Software Advice. He especially enjoys reporting on the intersection of technology and environmentalism. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter @ConstAdvice. To read more about how contractors are holding back green roads construction, visit Green Roads Construction: Are Contractors Our Roadblock?


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