Talking Asphalt: Getting it right – August 2014

This month I’m returning to one of my favorite themes – doing the job right. I’m talking about paying attention to the details and providing the best workmanship.

It means delivering a product that meets or exceeds expectations and lasts a long time. Frankly, I’m tired of continuing to find problems that I was trained about 40 years ago to avoid.

I’m talking about such bad practices as using diesel fuel as a release agent, or poorly applied tack coats, or badly constructed longitudinal joints or segregated pavements. That’s enough – I think you get the picture – and it ain’t pretty. Asphalt is a forgiving material, but it has limits.

I’m not going to talk about how to avoid these screw-ups. We pretty much know how to build good pavements. It’s just a matter of doing it, and we don’t always do it right. Sometimes it’s carelessness. Sometimes it’s a product of the job environment, or sometimes it’s a product of the low bid system. We all too often specify the lowest acceptable level and seem disappointed when that’s what we get. We don’t always provide incentives for better than minimum work. Being willing to pay for higher quality work seems like good business to me. Just be sure you get premium work before you pay extra.

We need to hold people accountable for poor work; don’t accept poor quality. People generally operate as they are required. If sloppy work is acceptable, that’s what we will get. If we demand what is in the contract, it should not be a shock. We need to communicate well, and we need to be consistent in our expectations.

We need to have clear cut standards and meaningful specifications. There should be no doubts about what is required and what is unacceptable. We need to train new people and make sure they understand how things are supposed to be done. I’ve seen a lot of job site inspectors who had no idea what was to be done. I’ve been there myself a few times and it is no fun. If the scope of the work includes something new, take the time to explain what is different. As the old saying goes, ignorance may be bliss, but it is an awfully poor way to build a road.

Regardless of why poor work is being done, it should not be happening. Money is short, and our pavements are being expected to carry more and heavier loads. Drivers don’t tolerate delays well; they surely don’t want us out there doing corrective work. Poor quality work is bad business.

Regardless of whether we work for the owner or the contractor, we need to do the work right. For the most part, we know how. It’s time to pay attention to the details and do our best work. Nothing less is good enough.