EXPERIENCE in many countries around the world indicates that the construction environment within Malaysia is ideal for the increased use of concrete roads, experts say.
“India and China are currently involved in enormous road-building programmes, and concrete makes up a substantial proportion of their work.
“It is therefore difficult to see why the situation should be any different in Malaysia, especially given its good experience on the North-South Expressway and its surplus capacity in cement production,” an international consultant told StarBiz at the 10th International Symposium on Concrete Roads in Brussels, Belgium recently.
Nevertheless, the consultant admitted that the introduction of new technologies could be very difficult.
“Sometimes you just have to tackle the challenges in order to achieve the rewards. Belgium provides a perfect example of this,” he said.
In Belgium, about 40% of the motorways consist of concrete or composite pavements.
The country has the world's first continuously reinforced concrete pavement (CRCP) roundabout, which was built in 1995. Over 50 CRCP roundabouts have been built in Belgium to-date.
In the United States, 59% of its Interstate Highway System, totalling about 50,000 miles, is in concrete. On lower traffic volume roads about 20% or lower are concrete while for urban streets, the ratio is about 25% to 30%.
US-based Applied Research Associates Inc principal engineer Michael Darter said concrete highways in the US generally have service lives of 20 to 30 years.
“In terms of traffic loading they have carried about two or three times more than the estimated level of truck traffic. A lot of our airport pavements are also concrete. I would say our concrete roads have been very successful – there has been problems with durability, materials, construction and design errors but they are generally a smaller percentage,” he said.
In the concrete field, Australia is best known for the Sydney Opera House which was a collaboration between Danish architecture and Australian engineering. It also used a lot of concrete in pavements.
New South Wales (NSW) is the only state in Australia that regularly builds concrete roads as some of Australia’s most heavily trafficked roads lie along major routes within NSW.
Its first concrete road was built in Sydney in 1880. For the past 25 years, NSW averaged about 100 km of concrete roads (one lane wide) per annum.
Roads and Traffic Authority – NSW manager (rigid pavements) Geoff Ayton said: “In brief, since 1980, we have constructed about 2,700 km of concrete roads (one lane wide).”
Ayton, in his keynote address at the symposium, highlighted the importance of building quality concrete pavements and the maintenance costs associated with good and bad projects.
An analysis was done on the maintenance records of a range of real pavements on a particular section of highway, and by extrapolation estimated their total maintenance cost over the first 20 years of life, based on the level of the Australian dollar in 2002.
Concrete pavements that were well constructed would typically incur maintenance costs of about A$3 per sq metre or less while poorer quality concrete pavements are heading towards A$30 per sq metre. The flexible pavements are typically heading towards A$55 per sq metre.
On how Malaysia should approach concrete roads construction, the consultant said: “If you analyse the most successful highway authorities around the world, their experience suggests that there are three key strategies involved.
“Firstly, they seem to keep themselves well informed of global best practices. Secondly, they maintain a core of local people who are able to assess and adapt those overseas practices to suit local conditions while the third strategy relates to staff training,” he said.
The consultant stressed that keeping up to date on the practices of the leading roads authorities in countries like Europe, North America and South Africa involved not only reading international literature but also attending the conferences.
“In general, the literature only reports the happy stories, but it can be just as valuable to learn about the failures, and the best time to hear about those is during coffee breaks,” he said. He added that it was unrealistic to expect every project to be perfect, but it would be important to have the technical capacity to be able to analyse both the successes and the failures, and to turn that experience into ongoing improvements.
This requires good co-operation and communication between all parties, and a strong focus on key aspects such as design and good construction practices.
“Malaysia has already started this long-term learning process through the efforts of the Cement & Concrete Association and the Government agencies in attending international conferences like this Belgian symposium and by their active promotion of industry training programmes,” the consultant said.
He stressed the importance for early projects to be successful.
“Otherwise there will be a reluctance to continue with concrete.
“These early projects will hopefully set the benchmark for ongoing high standards and will foster increased confidence that modern concrete roads can be smooth and quiet, while providing a long-term low maintenance asset, as evident in Belgium,” he said.
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