2017 Alan Curtis Industry Service Award

Don Rooney, Pioneer Paving & Grading, Albuquerque, NM, is the 2017 recipient of this award


Don Rooney still remembers the day he was eight years old, standing on a dirt road near his house, watching a tack truck spread hot oil down the road. “I went in and told my mother ‘I love the smell of tar and I want to drive that truck!’”

Sixty years later he still not only loves the smell of tack and learned how to drive the truck, he owns one – and has become an influential contractor voice in the development of the paving and pavement maintenance industry. That's why he's been named to the Pavement Hall of Fame and selected as the 2017 recipient of Pavement's Alan Curtis Industry Service Award.

“And I still love the smell of asphalt,” Rooney says. “I learned a lot from the old, original asphalt paving people. I got a lot of good experience passed to me from people who had been in the industry a long time, and now I try to pass on what I can.”

A member of the Pavement Advisory Board since 1994 (the board was started in 1993), he has consulted on dozens of articles, helped develop and refine topics for National Pavement Expo seminars, since 1996 has presented numerous NPE sessions himself (on topics including Concrete Basics, Warm Mix Asphalt, and Superpave mix design), was ringmaster for the 2014 NPE outdoor demonstrations in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and has moderated the Pavers Roundtable for more than 15 years.

He’s attended 26 consecutive NPEs and all 14 of NPE’s West Coast events, but probably his most significant contribution to the paving and pavement maintenance industry is his general willingness to be a “contractor’s voice,” providing guidance and direction to growing or established companies that are encountering challenges he’s already solved.

“I try to keep up with new technology and the new materials and mixes, but the basics of how to pave are still the same,” Rooney says. “You have to know what to do when, what not to do, and you have to know the right way to do it. That’s all something I can help with.”

Don Rooney started in the industry in 1966 working a Miller spreader box and Buffalo Springfield roller for Shoemaker & Jennings outside of Boston, which he did for 12 years. In 1978 he moved to Albuquerque, NM, and ran a heater scarifier for Cutler Repaving, scarifiying roads up to 16 ft. wide and occasionally shooting Reclamite pavement rejuvenator.

By 1985 Rooney was ready to set out on his own and he started Pioneer Paving, a paving and sealcoating operation that paved, sealcoated and repaired everything from driveways and parking lots to county roads. The company quickly grew to 30 people and Rooney had a decision to make.

“I either had to get real big or go smaller,” he says. “I was handling an awful lot of money but wasn’t keeping much of it so something had to change.”

He downsized and regain control of his company – a step he’s counseled other contractors to consider.

“As your business grows the challenges multiply and there are new problems,” he says. “There are growing pains that it’s important to recognize so you can decide if you want to get bigger or smaller.”

Over the years Rooney has seen and experienced a broad variety of paving and pavement maintenance processes, both in his own work and at other companies he’s visited and other jobs he’s viewed. Not only can he rely on his extensive experience in paving and sealcoating, he’s skilled in chip seal, slurry seal, Superpave mixes, warm mix asphalt, and most recently overseeing a paving project in which 50% of the mix was steel slag.

“The industry changes and you’ve got to change with it,” he says. “That’s why I come to NPE and it’s why I pay close attention to any changes in equipment technology and mixes.”

Two examples of his willingness to test new things are New Mexico’s first off-road use of warm mix asphalt, which Rooney specified in a bid he developed for Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center parking lot in 2010, and his specification in 1999 of a Superpave mix design for an Albuquerque truck stop.

“In both instances the hot mix supplier was looking for someone to take those materials off road to show what they could do,” he says. “We did it in both instances and the pavement has held up extremely well.”

Rooney officially retired from Pioneer Paving & Grading in 2011 and moved to Virginia, turning management over to his son, David. But as vice president, Rooney continues estimating for Pioneer Paving a few times each year and is a behind-the-scenes guiding force. In addition he regularly estimates jobs for Salem Paving Corp., Salem, VA, and has been known to help property owners and managers develop their bid specs and oversee an occasional project for them.

His on-the-job experience and has experience running a growing, then too-big, then just-the-right-size company over more than 25 years forms the basis of what he works to give back.

“I was there once. I was the one with all those questions and it was just so awesome when I got some help from people with experience,” he says. “The joy I get is the satisfaction of hearing from those same people one or two years later, maybe at NPE or maybe they’ll just call me, and they tell me they’re growing and they’re profitable. That’s the satisfaction. When I hear they responded to what we talked about and I was able to help them with their company.”