Caltrans and Recycled Transportation Products


The California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, builds, maintains, and rehabilitates State roadways. Caltrans projects use large quantities of construction products, some of which are, or could be, recycled-content products (RCP). However, Caltrans procedures can be confusing for a new supplier. If you are a supplier of recycled construction products and would like to sell to Caltrans projects, this fact sheet may help clarify Caltrans procedures.

This page is a brief overview of:

  • Products. Existing Caltrans markets for recycled-content products (RCP).
  • Procedures. Suggested procedures for introducing new products to Caltrans.
  • References. Documents and procedures to obtain them.


The major product categories with current or potential RCP markets in Caltrans projects are:

  1. Road base
  2. Asphalt pavement
  3. Rubberized asphalt
  4. Plastic lumber bridge timbers and pilings
  5. Plastic lumber guardrail offset blocks
  6. Plastic lumber sign posts
  7. Glass in pavement delineation
  8. Sound walls
  9. Landscaping and erosion control (compost/mulch)

These products are discussed in more detail below.

1. Road Base

Road base consists of aggregate base (AB) and subbase (ASB) placed under a road’s wearing surface. Recycled road base is aggregate made from crushed demolition concrete and/or asphalt concrete (AC), road base, or glass.

Present use. Recycled road base is occasionally used in Caltrans projects.

Specifications. Recycled road base on Caltrans projects must conform to Caltrans specifications for AB and ASB. As stated in the Standard Special Provisions (SSP), Caltrans allows “reclaimed asphalt concrete, Portland cement concrete, lean concrete base, cement treated base,” or “glass” in Class 2 and 3 AB, and in Class 1, 2, and 3 ASB.

Product procurement. If the contract allows recycled base, contractors (1) may produce the base by crushing on site (if contract specifications allow it), or (2) may bring it from their off-site plant, or (3) may purchase it from another supplier. (For more details, see Supplying for Caltrans Projects.)

More information. For further discussion, order CalRecycle fact sheet Recycled Aggregate. (See References.)

2. Recycled Asphalt Concrete

Asphalt pavement is technically called asphalt concrete (AC). Recycled AC is asphalt pavement that contains a portion of reclaimed asphalt pavement (RAP). The RAP portion may range from 15 to 50 percent.

Present use.  Recycled AC is not yet commonly used on Caltrans projects. Caltrans selects sites for recycled AC on a case-by-case basis. Site selection is determined by conditions favorable for its use.

Specifications. Caltrans does not yet have SSPs for recycled AC. Work on SSPs is expected to be completed in 1997 for two types:

(1) 25 to 50 percent RAP in hot-mix AC.
(2) 100 percent RAP cold-in-place.

Product procurement. If the contract allows for recycled AC, the contractor (1) may produce it on site (if contract specifications allow it), or (2) may bring it from an off-site plant, or (3) may purchase it from a supplier. (For details, see Supplying for Caltrans Projects.)

More information. For further discussion, see CalRecycle fact sheet Asphalt Pavement Recycling. Or contact Caltrans’ TransLab at (916) 227-7300.

3. Rubberized Asphalt Concrete

Rubberized AC is AC with approximately 1 to 2 percent ground “crumb rubber” from dewired tires or other rubber sources, by weight of mix. The two processes are (1) “wet,” where the rubber is blended into the asphalt binder, and (2) “dry,” where it is blended into the aggregate.

Present use. Caltrans has used rubberized AC in approximately 130 projects throughout the state. Caltrans’ current routine usage is the wet process.

Specifications. Caltrans just completed a Special Provision (SP) on the wet process, based on information from the 1996 construction season, and is making modifications for an SSP which they hope to finish early 1997.

Product procurement. If the contract requires rubberized AC, the contractor (1) may produce the crumb rubber, or (2) may purchase it from a supplier. (For more details, see Supplying for Caltrans Projects.)

More information. Contact Caltrans’ TransLab at (916) 227-7300.

4. Plastic Lumber Timbers and Pilings

Caltrans is seeking a substitute for creosote-treated wood timbers and pilings in aquatic fender applications, and is interested in using reinforced recycled plastic (RRP) or composites of plastic (CP) and concrete polymer in these applications. Fenders are “sacrificial” structures placed at the base of bridge piers as protection from shipping.

Present use of timbers. The Dumbarton Bridge, the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge, and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge each have had some RRP sheathing timbers installed. The fenders at these and other toll bridges in the San Francisco Bay Area will be rehabilitated with RRP or CP timbers in the near future.

Present use of pilings. Caltrans does not presently use plastic lumber pilings.

Specifications. The Caltrans Office of Structure Maintenance and Investigations-Toll Bridge Investigations (North) has developed a draft SSP for RRP and CP timbers and pilings. Caltrans Structures Specifications will develop this draft into an SSP.

To introduce a product. Contact the New Products Coordinator. (See Submitting New Products).

5. Plastic Lumber Offset Blocks

Caltrans’ metal guardrails are attached to supporting posts by offset blocks. Caltrans has expressed interest in using plastic lumber offset blocks; however, since contractors may choose among all allowed products, the price must be competitive with those currently used.

Present use. Plastic lumber offset blocks have not yet been used on Caltrans projects. The blocks presently used are typically steel or wood, and size 6″ or 8″ x 8″ x 1″ to 2″.

Specifications. Caltrans does not currently have specifications for plastic lumber offset blocks. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) recently approved recycled plastic offset blocks from several companies for use on the National Highway Systems. Caltrans, however, must also approve their use; Caltrans approval is pending further data.

To introduce a product. The manufacturer must provide product specifications and test data showing compliance with existing federal and state guardrail standards. Since guardrails are considered a “safety feature,” required data includes a written crash test as specified in the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 350, Chapter 6, page 57. Products passing all required tests may be placed on a list of approved products. To begin the process, contact the new products coordinator. (See Submitting New Safety Feature Products.)

6. Plastic Lumber Sign Posts

Caltrans may be interested in using plastic lumber sign posts with the proper crash testing.

Present status. Caltrans is not yet using plastic lumber sign posts. Typical sign posts are presently made of wood in the following sizes: 4″x4″, 4″x6″, 6″x6″, or 6″x8″. Guardrail posts can be wood or steel; wood posts are typically 6″x8″, 8″x8″, or 10″x10″.

Specifications. Caltrans does not currently have specifications for plastic lumber sign posts.

To introduce a product. Sign posts are considered a “safety feature,” so the procedure is identical to that of guardrail offset blocks as discussed in the previous section. To begin the process, contact the new products coordinator. (See Submitting New Safety Feature Products.)

7. Glass in Pavement Delineation

Glass beads provide reflectivity for painted and thermoplastic traffic stripes and pavement markings for highway delineation. The glass beads are applied to molten thermoplastic or wet paint when the traffic stripes or pavement markings are made.

Present use. Caltrans presently uses recycled glass beads or cullet.

Specifications. Glass spheres are discussed in Section 84 of the Standard Specifications. The glass must be 50 percent total recycled content, and 10 percent postconsumer content.

To market. Order the detailed State Specification for Glass Spheres (Beads), No. 8010-21C-22, from Caltrans’ TransLab at (916) 227-7000. Review Caltrans contracts for marketing opportunities. (See Supplying for Caltrans Projects.)

8. Sound Walls

Present status. The sound barrier commonly used by Caltrans is concrete masonry block.

Straw bale sound wall test. Caltrans and CalRecycle signed an Interagency Agreement in June 1996 for a demonstration project of rice straw bales in sound walls. Construction is expected to be completed by summer 1997; results are expected summer 1999 after a two-year testing/monitoring period.

Plastic lumber sound wall test. In 1994, Caltrans had two experimental plastic lumber sound walls constructed in the Los Angeles area, one 10′ by 100′, and one 12′ by 220′. Despite several minor problems, Caltrans’ report recommends that Caltrans develop a standard design for soundwall constructed of recycled plastic lumber. Caltrans has not yet developed this design.

Advisory Council. Caltrans set up the Noise Barrier Advisory Council to evaluate new noise barrier systems. The council consists of representatives from the Design and Local Programs Program, the Structures Program, and the Maintenance Program.

To introduce a product. Order the “Noise Barrier Product Approval Procedure” packet from Jerry Champa at (916) 653-0725.

9. Compost/Mulch

Present use. Caltrans specifications allow the use of compost as a soil amendment (Section 20-2.03). Mulch is used for weed control and water conservation, and is made from tree bark and clean wood chips, including clean construction wood waste (Section 20-2.08).

New mulch specifications. SSPs were written in November 1996 that encourage the use of recycled materials in mulch.

New compost specifications. Caltrans has recently begun to use compost as erosion control. This new use is currently written as a draft SSP.

Product procurement. If the contract specifies compost, mulch, or soil amendments, the contractor who wins the bid may need to purchase it from a supplier. (For details, see Supplying for Caltrans Projects.)

More information. Contact John Haynes at Caltrans at (916) 227-7109 or the landscape manager in the appropriate district. See also Compost Demonstration Project, Placer County: Use of Compost and Co-Compost as a Primary Erosion Control Material (CalRecycle pub. #443-99-008).



Following are Caltrans procedures for developing projects, bidding and purchasing, and submitting new products.

Project Steps

Following is a brief overview of the steps in a Caltrans road rehabilitation project. Products are selected during design; however, products may also be allowed or disallowed at several other stages.

1. Caltrans designs project. Caltrans projects are designed by Caltrans district engineers or by their consultants. Products are selected by the designer or by the District Project Manager. Caltrans’ 12 districts are headquartered in Eureka, Redding, Marysville, Oakland, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Bishop, Stockton, San Diego, and Santa Ana.

2. Caltrans’ “Office of Office Engineers” (OE) reviews project. Headquarters OE writes or approves the Special Provisions for all projects

3. Caltrans advertises project for bid. When projects are finalized, Caltrans advertises the bid notices via hard copy and on the Internet. (For Internet instructions, see References.)

4. Contractors bid on project. General contractors submit bids to Caltrans. If the contract allows a choice of products, the contractor will usually, of course, select the least expensive product.

5. Contractor constructs project. The contractor who wins the bid purchases the products. The contractor may also submit contract change orders (CCO) to substitute products at a later time, particularly if a less expensive product becomes available.

Supplying for Caltrans Projects

RCPs can be supplied to Caltrans projects in three ways:

1. Supplier can bid on contract. A general contractor who supplies RCPs can view Caltrans’ Advertised Projects (see References, page 4) and bid on a contract that allows RCPs.

2. Supplier can sell to general contractor. A supplier can view Caltrans’ Advertised Projects and contact general contractors who are bidding.

3. General contractor submits contract change order (CCO). A supplier can view Caltrans’ Awarded Projects and, if feasible, offer the RCP to the winning bidder at a cost savings. The general contractor would submit a CCO to Caltrans. If the bid amount is to be reduced, the CCO can be in the form of a Cost Reduction Incentive Proposal (CRIP). The Caltrans Resident Engineer (RE) must approve the change. Caltrans and the contractor split the savings 50/50. This is not the best method to sell products, however. The preferred method is to plan ahead as described in 1 and 2 above.

Submitting New Products

Manufacturers with new products must submit test data to Caltrans, along with all pertinent information for product evaluation. All products must pass through various committees to consider their usefulness to Caltrans. Evaluation may also include field testing. To start the procedure, obtain the “New Product Information Form” from:

New Products Coordinator
New Products Evaluation Program
Caltrans Office Of Materials Engineering
and Testing
PO Box 19128, MS #5
Sacramento, CA 95819-0128
(916) 227-7185

What does approval mean? When a product passes approval, it is placed on a Caltrans list of approved products, if applicable. This means that the product could be specified to be bid as an approved alternative, though there is no guarantee it will be included on any individual project.

Submitting New Safety Feature Products

Definition. “Highway safety features” are defined, in part, as devices placed on the roadside to reduce the severity of accidents involving vehicles that might otherwise strike a fixed object, another vehicle, an embankment, etc. Examples include guardrails, bridge rails, median barriers, crash cushions, and breakaway supports for signs and light poles.

Approval process. To begin the approval process for a new safety feature product, contact the new products coordinator (see Submitting New Products section above) to obtain Specific Evaluation & Approval Procedures for New Highway Safety Features and other information from the Highway Safety Features New Products Committee (HSFNPC). This document will describe procedures and other documents needed, and how to obtain them.



Caltrans Documents

Suppliers should be familiar with the Caltrans documents listed below. Most of these documents contain specifications and drawings that are used in Caltrans contracts. Those with prices listed can be ordered from:

Caltrans Publication Distribution Unit
1900 Royal Oaks Drive
Sacramento, CA 95815-3800
(916) 445-3520

Standard Specifications is a book containing the standard directions, provisions, and requirements for construction and for materials supplied on a Caltrans project. It is supplemented by the Standard Special Provisions.

Standard Special Provisions (SSP) are specifications that supplement, and may eventually be incorporated into, the Standard Specifications. SSPs are available for general use.

Special Provisions (SP) are also specifications, but have not been used as long, and are not yet available for general use. “Special Provisions” also refers to the specification document that accompanies Caltrans’ project plans as part of a construction bid package. Project SPs include SSPs and references to Standard Specifications.

Standard Plans are standard drawings, with details and dimensions, to be selected and incorporated into Caltrans projects. They include general road work, bridges, signs and signals.

How to Do Business with Caltrans (July 1996) is a 29-page guide covering Caltrans’ purchasing of commodities and equipment, contracting for services, and contracting for construction projects.

Caltrans Contracts

Advertised projects. The free Weekly Ad for Bid comes out every Monday and lists smaller jobs (under $1,000,000) advertised to the public, including location, and type of work. Jobs $1,000,000 and over are also available in the “three-months listing.” To subscribe, call Caltrans Office of Office Engineers at (916) 227-6287.

Awarded projects. The Statement of Going Contracts lists all jobs awarded and currently in construction. It comes out monthly, costs $66 per year, and is 20 to 35 pages. To subscribe, call Caltrans construction office at (916) 653-8710.

CalRecycle Publications

CalRecycle has published a series of fact sheets, case studies, and resource lists on construction and demolition recycling. The are available on line via the CalRecycle’s online publications catalog, which includes a C&D section. From the catalog you may also order hard copies by e-mail or phone.

Recycled Aggregate | Asphalt Pavement Recycling

For more information contact: C&D Program Staff,