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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / June/July 1996

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-SA-96-017
Date: June/July 1996

Maryland DOT Roundtables Open Lines of Communication

When a State adopts the Superpave system or any other new technology, the ramifications reach beyond the materials engineering laboratory. The procurement department, for example, needs to know if costs are going to go up. The contractors who build the roads need to know if they will have to change any of their procedures or equipment. To answer these and a broad range of other questions, the Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT) recently held several meetings for pavement designers, safety engineers, contractors, materials engineers, district design and maintenance staff, and other people involved with road construction. The goal was to help staff from a range of departments better understand what's new in hot-mix asphalt (HMA) construction and to improve communications between different departments.

Maryland DOT held four roundtable meetings at locations across the State, starting in February in Hagerstown. Each meeting, attended by about 90 people, addressed the Superpave system, quality control/quality assurance (QC/QA) procedures, aggregate selection, new asphalt repair techniques, and other topics. The roundtables gave staff members and contractors a chance to discuss any concerns or questions.

The idea for the roundtables developed from meetings Maryland DOT had long held for materials engineers and contractors. "About 3 years ago we realized we didn't have all the players together," says Larry Michael of Maryland DOT, who was involved in establishing the roundtables. Bringing people together from different divisions gives them a chance to learn about new technologies for asphalt pavement construction. "Pavement inspectors were saying things like 'who wrote this stupid spec?'," says Michael. "We decided to see if we couldn't talk through these things and make sure people understand what's going on with HMA."

This format was new for John Bukowski of FHWA, who spoke and answered questions about the Superpave system at the first roundtable. "Most of our presentations are geared to materials engineers and technicians. This was the first one geared to such a diverse audience." Bukowski says he fielded questions on a wide range of topics: "Participants asked whether the Superpave specifications will increase the cost of the binder and the mix. Safety people asked about pavement smoothness and friction. We also heard questions about the impact of Superpave on asphalt and aggregate suppliers and supplies."

The roundtables did more than inform-they also opened lines of communication. "We wanted to put faces to names so people would know who they were calling when they had questions," says Michael. "People are often afraid to ask questions they think are dumb," he says. "If people know each other, it helps to break down barriers."

Participants agree that the roundtables were useful. Freddie Baker, who oversees pavement management and design at Maryland DOT, says he had gathered bits and pieces of information about the Superpave system, but now he has a much better understanding of the system and what it means for construction specifications. "We now recommend that the Superpave system be used to design the asphalt mix for high volume roads, as opposed to our old mix design methods."

Baker says the meetings improved communications, particularly with contractors. "Before the roundtables, I never really heard from asphalt contractors. Since then, I've been getting quite a few calls from them." This is a benefit for both the DOT and its contractors, he says. "Anything that'll get people talking and working together is a step in the right direction."

All four roundtables have been successful, says Michael, but the DOT held an additional session he feels was particularly useful-a presentation on the Superpave system specifically for pavement designers. The session included a viewing of the new Superpave videotape produced by FHWA and the National Asphalt Pavement Association, distribution of FHWA's Superpave brochure, and a demonstration of the Superpave mix design procedures. Using Maryland DOT's resurfacing project on Interstate 695 as an example, Bukowski and Tom Harman of FHWA demonstrated how to use the Superpave system to design an asphalt mix.

"The FHWA team did an excellent job of explaining Superpave," says Michael. "Pavement design people have heard all the terms, but they didn't really know what it all meant. The presentation worked really well, and I'd definitely recommend it to other States."

Curiosity about the Superpave system and a desire for answers is inevitable in States adopting the new asphalt mix design procedure, says Bukowski. "People outside of materials engineering are just starting to form questions about Superpave. A process like Maryland DOT uses is a great way of ensuring those questions are heard and answered."

For more information, contact Larry Michael, Maryland DOT, 301-678-6134 (fax: 301-678-5190).

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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