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DISCUSSING THE UPS AND DOWNS OF ASPHALT AND CONCRETE HIGHWAYS

Ask a hard question

SLOVAK Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda has hinted at the possibility of the construction of concrete highways in Slovakia.
After meeting with representatives of cement and concrete producer Hirocem Rohožník, the prime minister announced that he would charge some members of the cabinet and the head of Slovak Road Management to explore the possibility of building cement-concrete highways instead of asphalt ones.
Though roads with concrete surfaces are more expensive, construction experts claim that they do not require frequent repairs.

SLOVAK Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda has hinted at the possibility of the construction of concrete highways in Slovakia.

After meeting with representatives of cement and concrete producer Holcim Slovensko, the prime minister announced that he would charge some members of the cabinet and the head of Slovak Road Management to explore the possibility of building cement-concrete highways instead of asphalt ones.

Though roads with concrete surfaces are more expensive, construction experts claim that they do not require frequent repairs.

Slovak Transport Minister Pavol Prokopovič complained that, even if Slovakia had three times as big a pocket for the construction and repair of highways and roads, it would not be enough for such a plan.

He said that he was not against concrete covering, but does not assume that the upcoming years will bring it to Slovak roads.

According to Prokopovič, now is not the right time to think about the cover when Slovakia is only starting to build its highways.

According to the international index of road quality, 10 percent of Slovak highways and roads are in a unsatisfactory condition, while 8 percent are in an emergency state.

This is mostly a consequence of increases in transport intensity since the beginning of 1990 by almost 100 percent. Experts say that Slovak roads were not prepared for the growth in travel.

The roads in Slovakia are covered by asphalt, which is cheaper, but not as resistant as modern concrete surfaces. If Slovakia uses this somewhat more expensive technology, it could save money for maintenance and repair.

"At present it is difficult to unambiguously say which type of highway is more advantageous. The ministries of transport and construction decide on whether to build concrete or asphalt highways depending, above all, on the capacity to secure capital resources or on the lobbying of cement and asphalt producers. Generally, the construction costs of concrete highways are about 20 percent higher than of the asphalt ones," said Juraj Danielis of the economic daily Hospodárske noviny.

However, different sections of highways might have different costs depending on the character of terrain, underground water, and other factors, he added.

In former Czechoslovakia, the construction of roads with a concrete cover started at the end of 1970s. However, they were noisy and, due to large gaps, also of low quality. Therefore Slovakia focused on asphalt surfaces and its maintenance equipment is also designed for them. It will eventually be difficult to change types, road experts warn.

"Actually there are no such [maintenance] firms in Slovakia", said Gejza Végh, the director of the Transport Ministry's road management department.

Doprastav, the only highway builder and supplier of construction works in Slovakia, does not have the technology to lay concrete roads.

"If a political decision on concrete highways construction is made, it is apparently possible to secure such technology within two months. This investment would roughly amount to Sk100 million (?25 million). However, the purchase would have to be profitable.

"That means the technology would have to be used for large construction works," said Danihelis. In the Czech Republic, construction of the concrete highways continued.

"Our first results, after more than 20 years of evaluation, have showed that it was the right decision," said Marie Birnbaumova of the Czech Roads and Highways Directorate.

On average, maintenance costs for concrete roads is less than 40 percent of the same costs for asphalt roads.

At the same time, she stressed, technologies gradually improved and noisiness and uneven surfaces were eliminated.

The Czechs mainly used German and Austrian technologies, as the countries have a similar climate. Such roads are of mixed popularity in other countries.

"These highways are common, however their construction is always based on a political decision made by individual countries. In Slovakia, we have no concrete highways at present. On the other hand, approximately 80 percent of the highways the Austrian government currently constructs are concrete. Apparently they want to secure their durability. In Germany and the United States, asphalt prevails. Spain does not use concrete either," added Danielis.

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