PennDOT this year will use the souped-up paving material for all its resurfacing jobs in District 11 - Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties. A number of roads in Westmoreland, Butler and Armstrong counties are getting the so-called super-duper fix, too.
Superpave uses a custom blend of asphalt binder, polymers, larger stones and grainier sands to produce a compound that - better than older paving materials - resists cracks that grow into axle-busters. The mix is tailored for the weather and the traffic load. It is coming into general use across the country.
Maybe, just maybe, a pave job that would have lasted a decade will hold up twice that long. The price of the material is 5 to 20 percent higher, so the possible economic advantage is clear. Yet it must be remembered that Superpave is still an experiment. Changes in mix specifications and techniques for applying the material probably are in store. So it behooves PennDOT and road officials in Pittsburgh, who also plan on using Superpave, not to go off half-cocked.
The true measure is where the rubber meets the road.
PennDOT used Superpave on the Parkway West in 1998, a test certainly calculated to reveal any weaknesses. A few more years, perhaps, and we'll know for sure if this stuff is as good as it's not cracked up to be.