Paving the Way to Success

Steve Brahney Comments
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We’re all aware of the volatility of the crude-oil market over the past 12 months. So, you may ask, how is this affecting your parking lots and, more important, your budget?

Crude oil is used to produce different grades of asphalt cement (AC), the binder that holds aggregate (stone) and sand together to create hot-mix asphalt (HMA). In addition, most blacktop plants run on fuel oil, using it to operate the mixing drum. (The drum dries the aggregate and sand prior to mixing it with AC). Add a few loaders, dump trucks and pieces of support equipment, and an average asphalt plant could see fuel costs in excess of $500,000 per month. These costs are passed down to the end user, meaning the contractor.

The price of AC is dictated by refineries and published once a month. This is referred to as the Asphalt Index. You use a multiplier for the percentage of AC in the finished mix design to derive your total cost of asphalt mix per ton. When the index rises at the beginning of the month, the increase is broken down into a percentage and then added to the cost of asphalt. In 2006, this increase ranged from $2 to $10 per ton.

A paving contractor generally cannot absorb this kind of hike and has to pass it on to the customer, usually furnishing notice of the upsurge prior to starting a project. Reputable contractors have an addendum in their contract that relates to the cost of asphalt and explains it will be “in addition to” the contract price in the event the index rises during the month the project is scheduled.

It’s not uncommon for a project to be bid in January; the builder waits until August to award the project; and by September, the cost of asphalt has increased $8 per ton. On a 1,500-ton paving project, this equates to a change order of $12,000.

Start a Maintenance Plan to Delay the Overlay

If budgets are tight and safety or aesthetics are an issue, start a corrective maintenance plan. Hot-rubberized crack sealing is the best money spent if you can’t afford to overlay your parking lots. Crack sealing can extend the pavement life up to seven years and usually costs as little as 5 cents per square foot (depending on the quantity and severity of cracks).

A properly installed, hot-poured crack sealer expands and contracts with your parking lot and prevents water infiltration to the sub-base. Additional processes such as routing and heat lancing can be performed to extend the life of crack sealer and improve its performance.

Saw-cut and removal of failed asphalt in pot holes and alligator-cracked pavements will not only solve your immediate need, they will strengthen the asphalt overlay when it is completed at a later date. Far too often, problem areas are paved over without the proper corrective maintenance. This leads to the damage “reflecting” back through the pavement a year or so later. If the current base is showing areas of compromise, just overlaying the area with 2 inches of asphalt isn’t going to solve the problem.

By allowing your parking lot to deteriorate, you only increase the money needed for future repairs. The average cost to rebuild a parking lot today is more than $45 per square yard.

Obstacles Relating to Self-Storage

Most self-storage facilities are built as “drainage sensitive.” The minimum slope to properly drain a parking lot is 2 percent. In addition, cross slopes and numerous right angles can create a drainage nightmare.

Most storage sites allow enough elevation in the aisles for only one asphalt overlay, maybe not even that much. If your facility falls into this category, it’s in your best interest to start a preventive maintenance program sooner than later. If the asphalt deteriorates to a level where an engineered overlay is needed, your only alternative may be an expensive asphalt milling or complete pulverization.

At the storage facility shown in Photo 1, the elevations on the property would not accommodate a 2-inch overlay at the sill. In this type of situation, it’s necessary to mill down the entire parking lot 2 inches, which can increase the cost of an overlay by $2.70 per square yard. The facility shown in Photo 2 is an excellent candidate for a 2-inch geo-textile, fabric-reinforced asphalt overlay.

Choosing a Qualified Contractor

There are several criteria you should use when selecting a contractor to maintain your pavement. The most obvious is that he be licensed and insured. Let’s take it one step further. Here are some important things to consider:

Does the contractor understand the self-storage business? More important, does he know how to get in and out of a project with the least amount of impact to your site’s operation?

Can the contractor provide a thorough site analysis complete with pictures, recommendations, budget projections and a proposal that explains, in detail, what he proposes to do to simplify your job when reviewing the scope of work?

If you have a restrictive budget, is the contractor able to “value engineer” a project to ensure the most critical work is performed and funds are invested wisely? This is very important. If a contractor only offers one type of solution, you’re going to waste money. If your parking lot needs paving, but your contractor only performs seal-coating, he may recommend this service so he doesn’t lose the business, but in the end, you won’t receive any value from the job.

If you have developed a level of trust with your contractor, share your budget with him so he can propose a system that will best fit your situation and the dollars you have allocated. If the contractor is flying blind and doesn’t know what your budget or expectations are, it will be difficult to make your proposal work. If the property needs $80,000 of asphalt resurfacing and seal-coating is not an option, but you only have $30,000, a reputable contractor will show you how to best invest that money in immediate repairs. Then you can wait until the following year when you have allocated the funds to perform the work properly.

Is the contractor able to service your entire portfolio over a large geographic area, simplifying your job as a facility/ site/district manager, or will you have to find a different contractor for each of your properties?

Is the contractor a full-service “one-stop shop,” or will you have to find several contractors to do the work (seal-coating, paving, concrete, striping)? 

Will the contractor allow you to view his works in progress, to see his workmanship and standard operating procedure first hand? 

Before awarding your contract, thoroughly review your bids and the companies behind them. The low bid is not necessarily the best deal. Sometimes a hardcore bargain-hunter actually outfoxes himself and becomes the loser. Even when money is tight, you don’t want to hire a substandard contractor to complete the work. 

Steven Brahney is the CEO and managing director of Brahney Pavement Solutions, a national pavement-maintenance and management firm in Hillsborough, N.J. BPS is a Brahney Industries Company. For more information, call 908.281.5118, ext. 2; e-mail steve@fixasphalt.com; visit www.fixasphalt.com

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