After working in the heavy civil arena for a number of years for an owner-agency, a contractor, and a consultant, I have come to several conclusions:
It is amazing how little we know about something as simple as rocks and oil. Hot (and warm and cold) mix asphalt can be constructed with a wide variety of materials using a wide variety of methods and tools and is asked to perform in a wide variety of conditions – loading, environmental, and support. When we add sampling and testing error, the occasional poorly-written specification, and the sometimes conflicting interests of producers, contractors, engineers, and owners, there is some truth in the old adage that the answer to any question about asphalt concrete is, “it depends.”
You can never know too much. While some might respond that knowing too much may not result in the most competitive bid or proposal, it reminds me of the axiom: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Change generally comes slowly to the asphalt construction industry, but it does come. The more we can all understand the basic principles and how to convey that information, the more we can focus on the unusual, the unique, and the innovation that truly provides value.
Small problems are easier to solve than big problems. I never cease to be amazed by how little effort will be put into up-front efforts to prevent, solve, or mitigate problems when they are in their infancy when compared to the effort that will be put into placing blame after the problem reaches full flower. Like saving the earth from an asteroid, a little push early on is far more effective than massive efforts expended when it is too late. Or, as a friend is fond of saying, “it’s not who’s right, but what’s right.”