Preliminary evaluation of the lifecycle costs and market barriers of reflective pavements

Publication Type





The objective of this study is to evaluate the life cycle costs and market barriers associated with using reflective paving materials in streets and parking lots as a way to reduce the urban heat island effect.

We calculated and compared the life cycle costs of conventional asphalt concrete (AC) pavements to those of other existing pavement technologies with higher reflectivity-portland cement concrete (PCC), porous pavements, resin pavements, AC pavements using light-colored chip seals, and AC pavements using light-colored asphalt emulsion additives. We found that for streets and parking lots, PCC can provide a cost-effective alternative to conventional AC when severely damaged pavements must be completely reconstructed.

We also found that rehabilitating damaged AC streets and intersections with thin overlays of PCC (ultra-thin white topping) can often provide a cost-effective alternative to standard rehabilitation techniques using conventional AC. Chip sealing is a common maintenance treatment for low-volume streets which, when applied using light-colored chips, could provide a reflective pavement surface. If the incremental cost of using light-colored chips is low, this chip sealing method could also be cost-effective, but the incremental costs of light-colored chips are as of yet uncertain and expected to vary. Porous pavements were found to have higher life cycle costs than conventional AC in parking lots, but several cost-saving features of porous pavements fell outside the boundaries of this study. Resin pavements were found to be only slightly more expensive than conventional AC, but the uncertainties in the cost and performance data were large. The use of light-colored additives in asphalt emulsion seal coats for parking lot pavements was found to be significantly more expensive than conventional AC, reflecting its current niche market of decorative applications.

We also proposed two additional approaches to increasing the reflectivity of conventional AC, which we call the chipping and aggregate methods, and calculated their potential life cycle costs. By analyzing the potential for increased pavement durability resulting from these conceptual approaches, we then estimated the incremental costs that would allow them to be cost-effective compared to conventional AC. For our example case of Los Angeles, we found that those allowable incremental costs range from less than dollar 1 to more than dollar 11 per square yard (dollar 1 to dollar 13 per square meter) depending on street type and the condition of the original pavement.

Finally, we evaluated the main actors in the pavement market and the existing and potential market barriers associated with reflective pavements. Apart from situations where lifecycle costs are high compared to conventional AC, all reflective paving technologies face a cultural barrier based on the belief that black is better. For PCC, high first costs were found to be the most significant economic barrier, particularly where agencies are cons trained by first cost. Lack of developer standards was found to be a significant institutional barrier to PCC since developers are often not held accountable for the long-term maintenance of roads after initial construction, which creates a misplaced incentive to build low first-cost pavements. PCC also faces site-specific barriers such as poorly compacted base soils and proximity to areas of frequent utility cutting.

Year of Publication



Added to JabRef: 2010.04.28


Research Areas