SimSpec group finalizing year-long revamp of asphalt specs

HMA RollingWhat could be more fun than sifting through decades of old asphalt specifications?  Since the task really doesn’t sound all that appealing to most people, it took a special group of Iowa Department of Transportation and our industry partners to tackle the job.  

Scott Schram, the Iowa DOT’s bituminous engineer, said, “For years, more and more specifications were added to our system without ever removing the ones that no longer applied. It was getting very difficult for our industry partners, especially new ones, to look at our specifications and understand which ones they were supposed to use.”

He continued, “Cities and counties are now using our specifications. The complexity of the system we had in place was starting to have a negative impact and it didn’t need to be that way. Some of the specifications were written in such technical language you would need an advanced engineering degree to understand them. Even our employees were overwhelmed with some of the specifications and that lead to asking a million questions. We needed to do better.”

In line with the Iowa DOT’s vision “Smarter, Simpler, Customer Driven,” a group of industry partners and long-time employees were pulled together to revise decades of asphalt specifications. “We started calling the group SimSpec, because our goal was to review and simplify the specifications,” said Schram.

He said, “It really helped to have people in the room with a lot of history to look at a process and say ‘We haven’t done that in years and here’s why.’ Having our industry partners in the room also helped make sure the specifications we were writing not only worked for the Iowa DOT, but worked for them as well. This is a partnership that needs to benefit all of us."

Bill Rosener, executive vice president of the Asphalt Paving Association of Iowa, was on the team that revamped the documents. He said, “There just aren’t many asphalt experts in Iowa outside of the Iowa DOT. Simplifying the specifications makes them easier for cities, counties, and other groups to use when they are planning projects.” 

HMA PlantOver the past year, the SimSpec group tackled rewriting the entire 2303 section of the specifications book, made revisions to 12 other sections of the specifications, and rewrote/revised 35 different materials instructional memorandums, along with numerous associated forms and worksheets. A large portion of the updates were approved in mid-February, with another segment up for review in April.

Another major change will be noticed by those who deal with asphalt. “In this process, we’ve reduced the number of asphalt mix options from seven to three,” said Schram. “This will impact the industry across the board from design to construction beginning in October 2016. The potential impact was another reason it was so important to have a good cross section of people involved in the updates.”

To explain the updates, the Iowa DOT is presenting a series of webinars the last Thursday of each month from 10  to 11 a.m. beginning March 31.  The webinars can be accessed at:

Greg Mulder, director of the Iowa DOT’s Office of Construction and Materials, said, “This was a long overdue and very large task. All of this work and these changes could not have been made without the hard work, dedication, knowledge, effort, and passion of the SimSpec group. I can’t say enough good words about the commitment this team had to pull this off.  The more they worked, the more they realized how far these changes reached and how big of a task this really was. This SimSpec group has made a significant improvement to hot-mix asphalt specifications, in both materials properties and construction administration of the mixes. By including the industry in the SimSpec group, we strengthened our partnership with the industry and ensured the successful implementation of these changes.”

The SimSpec group included DOTers Scott Schram, Jeff Devries, Roger Boulet, Dan Redmond and Jeffrey Schmitt. Our industry partners involved in the group were Bill Rosener (APAI), Erv Dukatz (Mathy Construction); Matt Thompson (General Asphalt Construction Company); Mike Collins (Knife River Corporation) and Ted Huismman (OMG Midwest). 

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