An Alternative to Precast Highway Sound Barriers

September 28, 2010

When it comes to highway sound barriers, pre-cast concrete has remained the industry standard because of a lack of acceptable, cost-effective alternatives. 

However, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission recently completed a sound barrier project using a composite alternative that not only is easier to install and environmentally friendly but also can, potentially, save hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

This turnpike was the first to use the new barrier, Eco Sound Barrier by CENTRIA, on the $100 million renovation of 7½ miles of highway at mile marker 7.3. The overall project involved the reconstruction of a section near the Ohio border that changed the existing four-lane highway to six lanes to keep up with today’s transportation standards. 

Eco Sound Barrier was used to provide noise mitigation on the section of the turnpike that runs through Enon Valley, PA.

Eco Sound Barrier is made from 23 percent recycled material and is 100 percent recyclable at the end of its useful life. Its Cradle-to-Cradle model is based on lifecycle assessment of human industry, materials, design, and their impact on the natural environment. Panels are made of a polymer composite core with galvanized or aluminum substrates. 

“There is certainly something to be said about the environmental benefits of this product,” says Kevin Scheurich, project manager for the PA Turnpike.

Money matters
What was most appealing to the turnpike commission was the up-front cost savings. Eco Sound Barrier material cost is about one-third as much as pre-cast. 

The Turnpike Commission approached Joseph B. Fay Company, the contractor for the turnpike renovation, with the new product.

“We received some preliminary information on the panels and saw the potential advantages of using Eco Sound Barrier,” says Eric Klimas, project manager for Joseph B. Fay. “Our engineers analyzed it and found it to be a good alternative to precast.”

When all the different factors were figured, the 1,800-foot-long by 15-foot-high sound barrier came in approximately $385,000 under budget because of its unique characteristics.

Material costs for the barrier project were originally bid at $600,000. Precast panels were quoted at $25 per square foot for the PA Turnpike project. However, Eco Sound Barrier panels cost only $10 per square foot, an estimated savings of about $366,000 in material costs alone.

Faster is better
Additional benefits of using Eco Sound Barrier began with transporting the panels to the jobsite. At only 2.25 to 4.25 pounds per square foot, Eco Sound Barrier weighs dramatically less than precast panels. The original estimate specified 45 truckloads of pre-cast panels delivered to the jobsite, which saved almost $24,000 on transportation and labor spent unloading the trucks at the jobsite.

Joseph B. Fay also saved on labor during the installation process. “Pre-cast concrete would have taken a four-person crew three to four weeks to install,” Klimas says. “The same crew completed the Eco Sound Barrier installation in only five days.” 

The crew plus one crane operator would have cost an estimated $45,000 for four weeks of work, but because the project was completed in only five days, Joseph B. Fay saved more than $33,000 in labor. The company could have easily used much smaller equipment for installation but decided to use what they already had on hand.

Competitive edge
Klimas believes this product could give Joseph B. Fay a competitive advantage when bidding future highway projects. “The construction industry really feels the stress of a down economy,” Klimas says. “We always pay attention to products that could give us the inside edge to securing more work in the future and cost reduction is a major part of getting the work.”

The PA Turnpike Commission agrees that the cost savings are impressive; now it wants to see if the barrier can withstand the test of time. Scheurich said the commission now is evaluating the life cycle costs. 

“Winters in Pennsylvania can be very harsh, and we would like to see how the panels hold up against freezing temperatures and road salt,” he said.

CENTRIA has been using the same composite materials in structural building applications for more than 40 years and offers a 20 year finish warranty. The company says many of its composite walls have been standing for 40 straight years or more in architectural applications without requiring any maintenance.

--This article contributed by Jared Brox, is a writer at Two Rivers Marketing in Des Moines, Iowa. Information was provided by CENTRIA.