2019 brought a host of changes for the road construction industry, including renewable materials, new technology and increased harmonisation. Roads & Infrastructure caught up with Carlos Rial, CEO of the Australian Asphalt Pavement Association, to discuss the association’s highlights.
With a significant infrastructure pipeline delivered nationally in 2019, the road construction sector continues to innovate to meet the ever-growing task.
As the peak body for the flexible pavements industry, the Australian Asphalt Pavement Association (AAPA) has spent the past year working and engaging with industry players across the country to encourage new ways of doing business.
Harmonising national asphalt test methods, advancing the sustainable use of renewable resources and promoting the need to increase road worker safety are just some of AAPA’s highlights, delivering on its strategic objectives to support a sustainable industry.
AAPA CEO Carlos Rial has spent close to three years at the helm of the association. In 2019, AAPA’s membership grew by 18 organisational members. AAPA’s members consist of all state transport and road authorities, local government and the private sector that deliver and maintain Australia’s roads.
Mr. Rial tells Roads & Infrastructure that working in partnership with every state road authority and the industry to harmonise asphaltic test methods was a testament to how AAPA’s members can work together.
“Each jurisdiction had its own variable way of undertaking asphaltic tests and this is now aligned. In addition, AAPA undertook national laboratory proficiency testing, which further removes variability to ensure construction test results can be relied on,” he says.
“This harmonisation of industry test methods means that if a contractor is doing a job in any state or territory, all of the specifications refer to one suite of tests that are consistent and reliable.”
The catalyst for test method harmonisation arose through AAPA’s Laboratory Proficiency Testing Program. The results of the 2017 AAPA National Proficiency Testing Round demonstrated the need for national harmonisation to improve consistency and repeatability.
AAPA members agreed on using a single set of national test methods and began to work with asphalt specifiers to move away from localised test methods.
AAPA’s remit is to advocate for outcomes that benefit Australia and AAPA members, both industry and government. To keep abreast of international best practice, AAPA conducts regular tours overseas.
In 2018-19, AAPA undertook three international knowledge transfer events. The first was to China, South Korea and Japan, primarily investigating increased use of renewable materials such as glass, crumb rubber, plastic and reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP). “In Japan, they use extremely high levels of RAP, sometimes up to 90 per cent,” Mr. Rial says.
In Japan, RAP has been used since the 1970’s so the industry is well versed on the material, with 47 per cent RAP used on average in Japan’s pavements.
“We are seeing most Australian road authorities now allowing increased use of RAP in pavement mix designs,” he says.
The second tour, to South Africa, explored the best engineering practice for using crumb rubber. Finally, a tour to New Zealand immersed AAPA in new technology that will enhance the safety of laboratory technicians in Australia by removing manual handling. This will be achieved through the introduction of a national automated binder extraction test.
Performance-based specifications have also taken the spotlight in 2019. By moving away from prescriptive engineering specifications, contractors can apply their own innovation and smart technology into practices.
In Queensland, AAPA is working with the Department of Transport and Main Roads to establish a framework to move away from prescriptive practice to performance-based specifications for spray sealing.
“Now the asset manager can specify the performance characteristics they are looking for and the contractors are then able to use their knowledge and expertise to deliver the performance outcome. This is a shift towards best international practice,” Mr. Rial says.
He says the transition allows contractors to take on greater responsibility and autonomy, leaving room for innovation. The trial for performance-based spray sealing specifications in Queensland will commence early next year.
“Traditionally, Australia has used prescriptive approaches to procuring works, which tell the contractor how to undertake the work. This provides little room to take advantage of the expertise our contractors hold. We don’t have enough taxpayers in Australia to fund our essential infrastructure needs and it makes no sense to not take advantage of the smart thinking our contractors can provide,” Mr. Rial says.
“We need to create a framework here where we allow innovation to take place, and that can only occur when contractors are given the autonomy to innovate and take risk but also responsibility. We are trying to unlock the innovation of industry and better use their capability and capacity to Australia’s benefit.”
In Victoria, following a $13.4 billion increase in infrastructure funding, state government took concerns to AAPA about industry’s capacity to deliver more projects.
Consequently, AAPA worked with companies in Victoria, throughout the year, to assess the industry’s current capacity to take on more work. It has since provided. annual reports on capacity to government.
“These reports give government the confidence it needs to continue to invest in essential infrastructure,” Mr. Rial says.
Over the course of the year, AAPA also has established partnerships with Institute of Public Works and Engineering Australasia, LTT – Laboratory Operations, RMIT University and training organisations Protech and RudTek.
The 50th anniversary of AAPA and its 19th Flexible Pavements Conference and Exhibition in Sydney in July was a major highlight for Mr. Rial.
Held once every two years, the event attracted 600 industry delegates to share knowledge and workshop the next generation of change required for the industry.
The conference held a central theme of circular economy primarily focusing on using renewable resources.
Mr. Rial identifies the use of renewable materials as a major industry trend for 2019.
“The biggest takeaway from the conference this year was the realisation that the roads sector can do its part to help with the challenge of using renewable materials,” Mr.Rial says.
In step with technical advancements for plastic, rubber and glass, AAPA is working on a national sustainability framework for industry.
“We will be trialling this framework next year in partnership with government around the country to benchmark the sustainability performance, capabilities and capacity of industry. This will then be linked to the procurement requirements of government rewarding companies with strong sustainable practice,” Mr. Rial says.
One of AAPA’s strategic objectives is to enhance the safety of road workers. These individuals are on the frontline, building and maintaining government’s largest asset by value and linking communities to each other and essential services.
“We want each and every road worker to return home safely,” Mr. Rial says.
Currently in Australia, there isn’t a comprehensive national safety dataset of road workers, in particular where incidents occur when working around live traffic.
“What we are looking for is to have informed policy and strategy in this space, and this requires good national data. AAPA is moving towards a national road worker safety dataset and has released an app to support this,” he says.
“In regards to working under traffic, AAPA maintains the preferred position to eliminate this risk through road closures. This results in shorter construction times, higher quality work and of course, safer worksites for our people.”
With many initiatives in the pipeline already for next year, 2020 is looking to be even bigger than 2019 was for the flexible pavements industry.
Mr. Rial notes International Maritime Organisation (IMO) 2020 changes are imminent and industry does not yet know what the impacts of this will be. “The IMO will, from 1 January 2020, impose a 0.5 per cent global sulphur limit for marine fuels, reducing the existing 3.5 per cent limit. This may have flow-on effects for the quality of bitumen,” he says.
As a result, the association’s international knowledge transfer study tour next year will see the delegation further investigate and discuss the possible impacts of IMO with the US and Europe.
“The study tours will help us to better position Australia to manage the impacts of IMO 2020 in the event there are significant changes,” Mr. Rial says.
He adds the tour will also enable the association to expand its knowledge in the use of renewable materials, such as best practice initiatives for plastics and rubber.
As Mr. Rial reflects on achievements past and successes to come, he says that one of AAPA’s most important strategic objectives is knowledge sharing and this has been at AAPA’s core for the past 50 years.
Mr. Rial says the new possibilities in technology and renewables is only going to increase throughout the industry.
“I am excited, looking ahead to the next year, at the opportunity for development and progression in the sector, not only to enhance industry practices but also outcomes for projects and return on investment for government and Australia’s road users,” he says.