Concrete vs Asphalt

The Akufo-Addo government recently proposed the construction of concrete roads instead of the common asphalt (bitumen) counterpart.

The government actually bought the idea of the Ghana Charismatic Bishops’ Conference which suggested that concrete roads last longer than tarred ones in a communiqué signed by the General Secretary, Rev. Kwesi Deh. The clergy came to this conclusion with reference to the Tema Motorway road which was constructed decades ago and still in good shape.

The Tema motorway was built in the early 1960’s by Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah.

Following the suggestion which pleased the government, a comparative analysis was carried out to find out the cost difference between the two types of roads. Per the analysis, Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia disclosed that while a kilometer of asphalt will cost $2.8m, that of concrete will cost $3.8m.

He, however, explained that the concrete road has a lifetime guarantee of 40 years while that of asphalt is 10 years, with the conclusion that concrete albeit being more expensive to construct, is more economical over time.

Govt To Start with Tema Steel Works Road

The proposal to henceforth use concrete for road constructions across the country was well taken and approved by the cabinet. The Vice President made the disclosure while speaking at the dedication of a temple of Harvest International Ministries (HIM) on Saturday, 15th July 2015.

According to Dr. Bawumia, the cabinet has decided to do the pilot phase of the project with the Tema Steel Works road.

“We will consider doing this and it will be transformational because as for laying concrete, we can all do it in Ghana. You don’t need to get anybody to come and lay concrete for you. Any mason from any village can come and lay the concrete…”

Meanwhile, to help bring a closure to the Concrete vs Asphalt debate, Buzzghana has gathered these very important facts that must be considered before choosing between concrete and asphalt roads.

1. Concrete vs Asphalt – The Differences

Asphalt is a type of road finishing made of aggregates of stone, sand, gravel, and liquid bitumen (coal tar), which is the oil-based glue that holds everything together. Asphalted roads are otherwise known as tarred roads.

Most asphalt surfaces are laid on a gravel base which is generally, as thick as the asphalt layer, although some ‘full depth’ asphalt surfaces are laid directly on the native sub-grade.

On the other hand, a concrete road is built using a mixture of cement, gravel, sand, and water.

The major difference between concrete and asphalt roads is the adhesiveness since both of them are made of stone and sand. While cement is the adhesive for concrete roads, bitumen otherwise known as coal tar is used in asphalt. When the subgrade is of the same quality, it is this finishing that creates a difference between the life span of a road. The underneath components of the two roads are the same with the difference lying in only the finishing.

2. Road Strength Lies Within

Road construction engineers have revealed that the strength of every road largely lies in its sub-grade components. This implies that the wildly held belief that concrete roads are more durable than asphalt roads may be misguided as the strength and durability of a road depend largely on how well the underneath fortification was done and not necessarily the type of finishing given to it.

According to a Civil Engineer who spoke to Citi News on the issue of Ghana’s choice of concrete over asphalted roads, “the concrete roads or the asphalts are only the finished roads. The methodology of any road construction right from the subgrade to the formation…is where the meat lies. If you don’t compact your sub-base and natural base well, and you put the concrete on the road, however extensive it is, it will fail.”

This means it is really high time the government starts looking into who constructs the roads, how well the work is done at all levels and not sitting back to say concrete is better or otherwise.

3. Construction Cost/Benefits

When comparing the cost, concrete roads come with a higher paving cost than asphalt roads. But then, this long and wildly held sentiment has been disputed due to the rising cost and limited supply of oil products (bitumen) as against limestone in recent times.

Howbeit, there is a cost benefit that comes with concrete finishing. This has to do with the fact that laying a concrete requires less professionalism as local laborers could be employed to do the job with adequate supervision, unlike asphalt which requires much more expertise and is laid using heavy duty machines.

The employment of local laborers will serve as a means of employment in the country, thereby yielding domestic revenue.

4. Maintenance

Both asphalt and concrete driveway cracks can be repaired. However, asphalt cracks are easier to repair in such a way that they would blend into the original. Concrete repairs are more obvious due to weathering, but asphalt can be resurfaced fairly inexpensively leaving a brand new top coat if the old layer falls into disrepair. This is impossible for concrete.

In all, the maintenance of concrete roads is more cumbersome than that of asphalt. According to the Civil Engineer, the repair of concrete takes many days and weeks whereas that of asphalt takes only a few days.

However, concrete roads do not require frequent repair or patching like asphalt roads. It is actually possible for a strongly built concrete road to last up to 50 years without major repairs or sealing. This is practically impossible with asphalt.

5. Climate 

Extreme weather conditions are liable to damage asphalt roads more than concrete roads. When looking at the environmental aspects as well as the climate change issues, concrete is the best option. Unlike concrete roads, asphalt is known to produce hydrocarbon pollution to soil, groundwater, and waterways when it is melted by high temperature during or after construction.

It is also believed that vehicles consume less fuel while running on concrete roads. This also means less pollution of the atmosphere. However, concrete roads might not be too good for the wellbeing of cars, among other things, they wear out tires easily.

What’s your take on this issue? Which should Ghana go for: concrete or asphalt? Share your opinion with us at the comment session.