Audrey Copeland, president and CEO of the National Asphalt Pavement Association, spoke with ENR’s transportation editor Aileen Cho at CONEXPO-CON/AGG earlier this month about sustainable pavements and encouraging more women to join the industry. After seven years with the Federal Highway Administration, Copeland joined NAPA in 2012, growing the engineering team and securing $2 million in federal funds to advance technologies such as warm-mix asphalt.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

ENR: So, how long have you been president and CEO of NAPA?

Copeland: It’s been a year – I’m the third president and CEO since 1955. 

ENR: Tell me about the initiative.

Copeland: It was started two years ago by Amy Miller, national director of the Asphalt Pavement Alliance. We want to raise the profile of women in our industry and recruit women. I was a little skeptical at first. I’m an engineer, so I’ve always been in a male-dominated field. I never want to be recognized just for my gender. But it’s taken off. I came to realize how important it is to take the opportunity to talk to other women. What I hear from [industry leaders] is that it’s so important for them to tap into half the population. Now we have 700-plus members, and state asphalt associations are starting chapters and hosting their own events.

ENR: What are your strategic goals?

Copeland: First and foremost, we want to promote asphalt pavement in terms of market share. Second—quality and innovation. Third, advocacy—we are partnering with other organizations to push for highway funding. Fourth—health and safety. Fifth—apply innovations, best practices, and workforce development. This initiative was started by chairman John Harper last year with Wiregrass Construction. Again, it’s just taken off. We’re trying to find where we can have an impact. We recently did a survey of general public and educators on perceptions of construction industry and asphalt industry. It was unique because we targeted guidance counselors and teachers. This will inform our strategy.

ENR: What is happening with asphalt mixes that include such materials as such as RAP and shingles?

Copeland: I used to work with FHWA, and my goal there was to increase use of RAP [recycled asphalt pavement]. That was during the economic crisis, so a lot of it is about cost savings. It was important to develop an industry-government partnership. With RAP, we needed some state DOTs to change their specs. On the industry side, we needed to ensure that our members know how to properly use those materials. It’s also a sustainability message.

Shingles has been more of a sidebar. We’re not against for or it; we say, hey, use it judiciously. Say 5% or less.

The poster child for asphalt evolution is warm mix asphalt [WMA]. It has been one of the most quickly implemented technologies for our industry. WMA came to the States around 2004. It was already being used in Europe. Ten years later, it’s 30% of the market. It has been useful in achieving compaction. The first phase has really focused on that. Now I think we will see a second phase of WMA implementation pushing the temperature envelope.

ENR: What other NAPA initiatives address the future of asphalt?

Copeland: Our current chairman is Jay Winford, president of Prairie Contractors. He’s a PhD and an engineer. His whole platform is the engineered performance of asphalt pavement. Asphalt traditionally has had a low-tech image. But it’s the most challenging material.  Our industry does take that seriously and we do want to make that product the best it can be, not only in designs of pavement and different layers but also the makeup of the materials. Deformation and cracking – we are moving forward with balancing those risks.

At the end of the day, whether it’s climate change or being able to help society move forward with autonomous vehicles, the pavement has to be in good, smooth condition.