Each year when new college interns join our magazine’s staff for the summer, we make a point to visit a local producer for a crash course on the concrete industry. This year, Prairie Material invited us to visit its Addison, Ill., plant, as well as a roller-compacted concrete paving project in nearby Streamwood.

What our interns didn’t realize — having never seen a paving job up close— was that they were not observing a typical concrete pour. We arrived bright and early at the jobsite on a quiet, residential street, in time to see the concrete being delivered…in dump trucks.

As we snapped photos and jotted down notes, we watched the crumbling, zero-slump material being tipped into a standard asphalt paving machine. Workers walked casually across the six-inch concrete roadway within minutes of its placement. Then, after a few passes by a roller-compactor, the crew sprayed on a sticky asphalt binder that would double as a curing agent and tack coat for a two-inch asphalt topping.

Although paving with concrete and asphalt in a “best of both worlds” scenario is nothing new, I was struck by something different about this job. Theron Tobolski, Prairie’s marketing product specialist, promotes roller-compacted concrete paving — largely to local and state DOTs. “Even though it’s topped with asphalt, RCC is taking what used to be an entirely asphalt job and replacing it with mostly concrete,” says Tobolski. “We still grow the market for concrete.”

In doing so, Prairie Material has established partnerships with local asphalt producers who perform municipal paving jobs. If the asphalt supplier doesn’t have a plant close enough to bid a cost-competitive full-depth asphalt job, Prairie works with them to bid the project as RCC. Score one for concrete; one for asphalt. “I never thought I’d have to learn everything there is to know about asphalt,” says Tobolski. “Or teach an asphalt contractor how to work with concrete. But now I’m doing it on a routine basis.”

I couldn’t help but think that one day the smoke will clear from the age-old battle over asphalt versus concrete, and partnerships like this may become the reality for more and more concrete producers.

Stay tuned for more coverage of Prairie Material’s unconventional marketing in our September/October coverage of the TCP100.

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