Tri-County Paving Now Makes Asphalt

Story by Mike Larson, Editor | September 28, 2010

Tri-County Paving, Inc., DeForest, Wis., has recently expanded its operation to include asphalt production, in addition to paving.

The 21-year-old company is well known in the area from Madison, Wis., northward to Waupun, Wis., for its quality excavating, grading, site preparation, asphalt milling, and asphalt paving services.

But its ability to produce and sell asphalt started just this spring, when it opened a brand new, state-of-the-art production plant in Columbia County.

The expansion is a natural step for Tri-County, which saw the opportunity to expand the breadth of services it could offer customers. Says President Terry Wenger, "Although producing our own asphalt is beneficial in bidding our paving projects, we really invested in the production business to provide a quality product for other paving companies working their own projects. The production operation is treated as a separate business with its own customers."

Long Experience And History

Wenger should know about the asphalt business. He's been in it since 1974. "I started out on the Columbia County highway crew," he says, "then worked for large paving and excavating companies until 1986. At that time, my father, Boots, and I purchased a Case 580 E and went into business for ourselves."

It wasn't long until Boots mortgaged his house so the company could purchase a 15-year-old Blaw-Knox PF65 self-propelled paving machine that could handle an 8-foot to 12-foot wide path.

They started by grading driveways, about 500 per year, as well as doing some excavating and site preparation work.

Those machines started paving the road to success for Tri-County. Its capabilities enabled the company to work on the parking lots, commercial projects, streets, and highways that have since become the company's most frequent kinds of paving projects.

Over the ensuing 21 years, Tri-County has continued to grow until today it has one paving crew, two excavating crews, three grading crews, and a total of 40 employees.

Its fleet of equipment includes a Vögele 1110WB Paver, Wirtgen 1900 Milling Machine and Wirtgen 2500W Pulverizer.

Expanded Breadth Of Services

In recent years, Tri-County has expanded its repertoire of services by adding specialty paving work to its standard menu of excavating, grading, milling, pulverizing, and paving.

One of the company's specialties is installing rubber membrane and asphalt to economically rehabilitate small bridges all across the state.

The process consists of cleaning the existing bridge deck, gluing a waterproof membrane over it, then paving asphalt over the top. "The asphalt melts into the membrane to form a single, durable surface that prolongs the life of the bridge by protecting it from salt and moisture," said Tri-County Vice President Dustin Gradel.

Another specialty of Tri-County is teaming up with Athletic Field Services (AFS) of Genesee Depot, Wis., to construct or rebuild athletic tracks for schools and colleges throughout the state. Tri-County handles the excavating and construction of the asphalt base, before AFS installs the multi-layered, resilient, rubberized surface over the top. "We can engineer, redesign and reconstruct tracks for a very cost-effective price," said Gradel.

High-Tech Asphalt Production Added In 2007

The newest addition to Tri-County's offerings came in the spring of 2007, when the company opened its asphalt-production plant in Columbia County, just a few miles from its offices.

The new plant, composed of brand-new, state-of-the-art equipment, can turn out 400 tons of precisely formulated, piping-hot asphalt per hour while meeting all the current environmental standards.

"Today, making asphalt is a lot more complex than just turning gravel into tar," says Wenger. "The state's department of transportation has established the basic specification that most everyone uses as a base. But a lot of specialty mixes are also required. And all of the mixes are specified by exact percentages of ingredients."

"It is really a science, now," he says. "You would be amazed by the amount of research and scientific data the Wisconsin Asphalt Pavement Association has amassed on the subject."

Tri-County's new plant uses a number of hoppers, silos, conveyors, heating units, and other processing equipment to be sure the asphalt is mixed exactly to the specified mix design. All the components are measured by weight and mixed in a precise sequence to be sure the final asphalt product turns out perfectly.

The entire operation is controlled and monitored from a computer room perched atop a two-story blockhouse that offers a birdseye view of the plant. The computers control the production of the asphalt and also alert the operator if any of the equipment is not operating correctly. The computers also make sure the dispensing silos load the right amount of asphalt into each truck for transport to job sites.

The entire plant can be run by two people, who mind the computers, run the loader that places various sizes of aggregate into the feed hoppers and perform routine maintenance.

Says Gradel, "The processing system is also environmentally friendly. It burns waste oil to create the heat for drying the aggregate, and its exhaust is filtered through a reverse-pulse baghouse to keep the air clean."

Recycling Asphalt Proves Cost Effective And Environmentally Friendly

A recent trend, says Wenger, is using recycled asphalt as part of the raw material for making new asphalt. The process starts with chunks of discarded asphalt that have been dug out of roads and parking lots that need replacing. The used asphalt is crushed up and 15 percent to 30 percent is added to the new mix.

Asphalt that is made using some recycled ingredients offers the same properties as asphalt made from all-new materials, but costs less and keeps used asphalt out of landfills.

Says Wenger, "Tri-County Paving prides itself on staying in touch with its customers and expanding its capabilities to meet their changing needs. Adding asphalt production was just the latest step in doing that."