Janet Callahan: Is alternative paving all it claims to be?
NORTHAMPTON — A recent Gazette article, headlined “Amherst using green resurfacing technique,” paints Amherst’s paving program with a broad, green brush but fails to tell the full story of how green the town is with its taxpayers’ “green.”
It remains to be seen whether the town has, in fact, saved money both for the short and long term.
The town of Amherst’s use of Hot In-place Recycling (HIR) is a technique developed decades ago for paving roads. This process periodically reappears and becomes touted as newfangled when commodity prices rise. Its use diminishes when commodity prices stabilize, bringing into question the true value of the technique.
The bid process for road construction in Amherst for fiscal 2012 seems on the surface fair and equitable. A closer examination of the documents raises questions whether this is the case.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s standard specifications provide cities and towns with guidance for construction methods and the quality of materials. These standards establish criteria that include periodic testing, materials source verification, limitations, production guidelines and construction practices.
The HIR specification does not adhere to MassDOT specification. If the hot mix asphalt manufacturer and the paving contractor would be held to the same relaxed standards that the HIR specification allows, the bidding process would be more fair.
If the current hot mix asphalt specifications would be revised to allow for higher recycled content, pricing would adjust accordingly.
Is the HIR process really green and is there a true reduction of greenhouse gasses in the town of Amherst?
The article states that Amherst is “greener” with this process because it takes trucks that deliver asphalt off the road. What isn’t mentioned is that the HIR process heats up the asphalt road higher than its melting point and close to if not hotter than its flashpoint. This process requires the use of an excessive amount of fossil fuels, creating greenhouse gases that are not monitored or even regulated.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and The Climate Registry, burning asphalt and road oils have a higher CO2 emissions factor than burning diesel fuel.
Because the smoke from the HIR process is not monitored, contained, filtered or regulated, one cannot draw a simple comparison of HIR emissions to the delivery trucks’ emissions. Due to the EPA’s stringent regulations, truck engines today are equipped with the most advanced emissions control systems ever developed.
Further, facilities that produce asphalt mixtures for paving are required to meet the most stringent air quality standards in the nation.
HIP should not get a pass on the emissions it creates and should not be regarded as a true green technology.
Taking the whole green stance doesn’t always mean it’s sustainable.
The article overlooks the socioeconomic impact of Amherst’s decision-making, which in this case goes beyond eliminating trucks.
The work performed includes not only the need for the personnel who deliver the asphalt, but also the people who operate, maintain and repair equipment, bid the work, produce, test and install the material and the vendors that support the project.
These people largely reside and purchase goods in our communities. It is a failure not to recognize the far-reaching contribution to community these individuals provide.
When choosing innovative or alternative technologies and applications for public infrastructure projects, one must weigh several factors carefully to be environmentally sustainable.
Among them are proper environmental controls, positive cost containment, proper specifications, quality assurance as well as social responsibility.
Janet Callahan is president of Palmer Paving Corp.