WASHINGTON, D.C.—In response to a provision in the federal surface transportation law passed in 2005—SAFETEA-LU—the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) published a new regulation in the Federal Register that broadens the available types of culvert pipe that can be specified and used for drainage applications on federal-aid highway projects. As of Dec. 15, 2006, the FHWA requires "equal consideration" in the specification of alternative pipe materials—including plastic and corrugated aluminum—that are "judged to be of satisfactory quality and equally acceptable on the basis of engineering and economic analysis."

The new rule, initially issued in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in April 2006, deletes Appendix A to Subpart D of 23 CFR part 635, which effectively limited allowable culvert materials on federal-aid projects to reinforced concrete pipe and corrugated steel pipe. According to FHWA, "When Appendix A was codified in 1974, the universe of available culvert materials was very limited and the state DOTs experience with new culvert materials was equally limited. … Over the next 30 years, the competitive market changed significantly and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) materials specifications are now available for various culvert materials such as: acrylonitrile butadiene styrene pipe, reinforced concrete pipe, corrugated aluminum pipe, corrugated steel pipe (with coatings of zinc, aluminum, asphalt, or polymers), poly-vinyl chloride [PVC] pipe, and high-density polyethylene [HDPE] pipe.

"With the deletion of Appendix A, contracting agencies will no longer be able to cite Appendix A as their basis for not considering other culvert alternatives," FHWA said. "The FHWA does not have a specific policy requiring the specification, number, and types of alternative materials for any other highway construction material. … Thus, it is important to treat culvert materials the same as other materials by removing Appendix A."

In reviewing comments to its NPRM, FHWA said that none of the 23 commenters, which included the American Concrete Pipe Association and the National Corrugated Steel Pipe Association, objected to the proposed changes, although several offered commentary for consideration in drafting the final rule. As expected, the change was favored heavily by the plastic pipe industry, including the Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association, the Plastic Pipe Institute, and HDPE-pipe manufacturer Advanced Drainage Systems, Inc. (ADS), all of which provided comments to FHWA.

"We believe the new regulation will make an important difference," said ADS President and CEO Joe Chlapaty. "It clearly has the potential, if implemented properly, to bring a new burst of dynamic energy into the highway drainage market, especially in those states that have been more resistant to such competition in the past."