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Sounds like snake oil, but this oil revitalizes roads

Roofing shingles, vegetable oil, and soybeans: just a few things tried by road builders to get around the skyrocketing cost of oil-based asphalt.

The latest - a spray-on soybean oil mix out of Missouri that "rejuvenates" brittle, aging asphalt.

"When I heard of it, I thought, 'Oh God. Another snake-oil quick-fix type thing,' " said Bill Busch, the tall, plainspoken coordinator of Hernando County's pavement management program.

The price of asphalt has jumped 100 percent in the past four years, leaving Hernando County alone with 70 miles of collector roads it can't afford to fix next year, Busch told the County Commission on Tuesday afternoon. Doubling and tripling road costs have delayed projects throughout the state, and the expense mothered new concoctions.

In a quarter-century of road building, Busch has seen a few snake-oil quick fixes, but none that outdid asphalt. Then he tried the soybean oil spray. Slippery at first, it soaked in within minutes, turning the faded gray asphalt into good-as-new blacktop.

BioSpan Technologies came out with RePlay last year, Busch said. The soybean oil mix sprays on easily, cures within a half-hour, and can be applied every three to five years, stretching the 10-year life span of a road to 20 years or more.

Covering 75 miles of road with a quarter-inch sheeting of asphalt costs $75-million. RePlay gets the same results for $850,000, Busch said.

"Farmers grow it here in the United States," Busch said. "It's produced in the United States, and that says it all if you ask me."

It also sidesteps the environmental impact of petroleum-based products, Busch said.

"You can drink it," he boasted, then reconsidered. "Well, maybe I wouldn't drink it."

It's not the only new concoction on Hernando's roads. Last week, a local inventor and engineer spread a mix of roofing shingles and recycled vegetable oil on a 1,000-foot stretch of limerock road, hoping to smooth out the ride and hold down the dust.

The mix, made with leftover shingle scraps from a Bradenton company, costs less than the traditional oil-based mix.

The state Department of Transportation approved the pilot program, but it might be a while before other contractors can test drive the new goo.

Charles Mixson, head of the county's public works department, said Tuesday that he planned to drive that bit of road and see how it held up.

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or (352)754-6127.

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