Raido Randmaa: Roadbuilding tenders organization green turn obstacle

Raido Randmaa.
Raido Randmaa. Source: Private collection

If we want to retain stockpiles of sand and gravel in Estonia and reduce the infrastructure sector's considerable carbon footprint, environmentally sparing roadbuilding must become a priority for both the contractors and the state. The first step should be to have value-based tenders, Raido Randmaa writes.

Several politicians have proposed creating the position of climate minister moving into Riigikogu elections. Right now, these topics belong with the Government Office's green transition expert group and private enterprises' Green Tiger movement.

To keep the green transition on track, the reins should be held by a member of government who could be held responsible for both successes and omissions. However, it should not be the struggle of a single minister without a portfolio, and other ministries should also plot a clear green course and find officials to coordinate relevant efforts.

Such a green transition coordinator is sorely missed at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the Transport Administration. The infrastructure sector is taking its first steps in the field and no one has a clear idea in which direction they should be moving.

Roadbuilding and maintenance need a green strategy for the next five years. The ministry, transport authority, infrastructure builders and designers must agree on a plan and a green target, as well as a set of activities necessary for getting there. And we need it now, not three or five years down the road. It is time to graduate to action.

We should start with public procurements that currently do not favor environmentally friendly roadbuilding. The lowest price should not be the main and decisive criterion. Estonia should switch to value-based tenders that, in addition to the price, consider criteria important for environmentally sparing roadbuilding and maintenance. For example, the longevity of new roads or the environmental footprint of their construction and lifespan. These criteria should be agreed on post haste.

In the Nordics, green tenders have become the norm in the field of infrastructure. In Norway, 60 percent of highway tenders include green criteria. In Norway, Sweden and Finland, the tender price is calculated by including environmental damage. Everyone actively measures their own CO2 footprint. Tenders favor bidders whose carbon footprint is smaller than their competitors'. Estonia cannot swim upstream here.

It is very difficult for our companies to invest in equipment with a lower carbon footprint or new and environmentally sparing asphalt plants without certainty the state will observe green criteria in future procurements.

For example, it has been agreed in the Netherlands that starting from 2025, all asphalt roads will be made using warm mix asphalt the environmental footprint of which is much smaller than that of hot mix asphalt. (Warm mix asphalt is produced and mixed at temperatures roughly between 100 and 150 degrees. Hot mix asphalt is produced and mixed at temperatures roughly between 120 and 190 degrees. The production temperatures depend on the bitumen used - ed.) Estonian roadbuilding rules even ban the use of warm mix asphalt. Because environmentally friendlier solutions can hike prices during the transition period, companies need clear messages from the state.

Unfortunately, the mere fact that tenders prioritize the lowest price is enough to kill innovation in roadbuilding. A standardized approach makes it impossible to use innovative solutions. Current roadbuilding standards are functional but not environmentally friendly. Western countries are using greatly improved technologies today.

It would be sensible for the Transport Administration to only lay down strength and lifespan requirements for roads, with entrepreneurs in charge of how to meet them. Such a model would kickstart innovation in roadbuilding.

The state and entrepreneurs must prioritize using as little in the way of non-renewable resources as possible. Provided a change is not introduced, Estonia will exhaust its sand and gravel reserves by the time it finishes construction of four-lane highways and Rail Baltica.

Following the example of Poland and the Nordics, road structures should include as much soil excavated during construction as possible, which is currently simply hauled off site. We must learn to reuse existing materials solutions for which were thought up a long time ago. For example, asphalt mixes where recycled materials count for more than half of volume are used in countries in similar climatic conditions than Estonia. Here, their use is only permitted for up to 30 percent of volume in some cases.

Reusing existing materials can render roadbuilding cheaper and reduce CO2 emissions from transporting materials to and from site.


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Editor: Kaupo Meiel, Marcus Turovski

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