A close-up of road plates on a street.

Steel Road Plates vs Composite Road Plates: Which Is Best for Your Project?

In recent years, the debate on the use of steel road plates vs composite road plates (CRP) continues to rage on among construction workers and manufacturers alike. 

Steel road plates have been used as temporary coverings for manholes and construction holes for decades, and for good reason, too. Their durability and load-bearing abilities are some of the many reasons construction workers have chosen them over road plates made from other materials for decades. 

However, the introduction of the composite road plate saw the industry torn for the first time between them and steel road plates.


In this article, we illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of steel road plates vs. composite road plates and discuss the factors to consider when choosing either one for your project.






Advantages of Steel Road Plates


The numerous advantages that steel road plates offer over road plates made from other materials is why they have been a staple in the construction industry for so long.


Here is a list of some of the advantages that steel plates offer:




Steel is a great material for making any equipment that requires high durability. It does not warp, split, crack, or creep. Steel is considered an isotropic since it has the same dimensional properties in every direction. 


Traditional steel road plates are known for their robustness and their ability to withstand heavy loads both laterally and vertically. The high durability of these heavy steel plates allows them to endure constant stress and strain typical to construction site traffic.




What about steel road plates vs composite road plates cost? Steel road plates are typically less expensive to make than most road plates made from other materials. This makes steel road plates an ideal option for projects with a tighter budget.


In terms of upfront cost, it is more economical to use steel road plates for most construction projects. Plus, very few materials can offer the same level of resistance to wear and tear as steel road plates do.


Installation Speed


Steel road plates can be installed quicker than most road plates made from other materials. This is because a steel road plate is good to go the moment it is placed on the construction site hole. The quick deployment of steel road plates can be crucial in time-sensitive applications.

Trench Safety Equipment
Steel Road Plate

At Sunbelt Rentals, Steel Road Plates provide a secure covering over open areas, allowing pedestrians and vehicles to pass over safely. Applications include trench covering and temporary road surfacing. Click to learn more.

steel-road-plates-blog-2550560 - 1


Disadvantages of Steel Road Plates


While steel road plates possess numerous advantages that qualify them for use on most construction sites, certain disadvantages make them the less-than-ideal choice for other applications.


Weight Restrictions and Lateral Movement


Steel road plates are usually very heavy. Even the modern ones that have been redesigned to be much lighter than the classic ones are still considerably heavier than most road plates made from other materials, such as composite road plates.


Plus, the significant weight of steel road plates also causes lateral movement, especially when they are not bolted down, which may pose a challenge in certain applications.


Health and Safety Concerns


The substantial weight of steel road plates can turn them into environmental and safety hazards during the installation and removal process. It typically requires using specialized heavy equipment like a crane and other tools to get steel plates in place due to their weight and rigidity. All of these add up to an increased risk of accidents for construction workers and lower road plate safety.


Increased Installation Cost


Due to the significant weight of steel road plates, they require a lot of manpower and machinery to install properly. Plus, the storage of steel road plates typically requires more space, lifting mechanisms, manpower, and capital, especially if you need to use the steel plates in multiple locations. However, the size and location of a project may justify the handling costs associated with using steel road plates.


Noise Pollution


The rigid nature of steel road plates makes them contribute to noise pollution on any site they are used, especially if it’s a high-traffic area.






Advantages of Composite Road Plates


Composite road plates are essentially road plates made from rubber and fiberglass. These road plates have rubber edges that help to reduce road noise and stick to asphalt. Some composite road plates have lock drop pins to help them stay in position.


Lightweight Design


The lightweight and modular nature of composite road plates is the most important advantage they offer. This makes them easier to handle and transport. This makes them the best choice for projects with weight restrictions. Plus, they can handle lateral loads of up to 44 tons.


Easy Installation


The lightweight nature of composite road plates simplifies the installation process and reduces or eliminates the need for specialized equipment.


Longer Lifespan


Composite road plates offer superior resistance to corrosion and rust. This typically leads to them having longer usage lifespans than steel road plates. However, this is usually not a reason to choose them over steel plates, as steel plates typically last a very long time, too.


Disadvantages of Composite Road Plates


Lower Load Capacity


The lightweight nature of composite road plates also limits their load-bearing capacity, making them unsuitable for heavy-duty applications.


Higher Initial Cost


The initial cost of manufacturing composite road plates typically outweighs the cost of making similarly sized steel road plates. However, composite road plates make up for it with their reduced cost of installation and transportation.  


Susceptibility to Cracking


Composite road plates do not have the level of durability that steel road plates have. This makes them more susceptible to cracking under extreme conditions. This makes them unsuitable for use in constant high-stress conditions.








Steel road plates and composite road plates are both great tools for temporarily covering manholes and other construction or hazard holes. Picking the right one for your specific projects requires careful consideration of various factors like load requirement, project duration, budget constraints, and more. A careful understanding of the various advantages and disadvantages of each material enables you to make an informed choice for your project.


Regardless of the type of road plate you choose, picking a road plate made from premium quality material is key to achieving a safe and effective environment for your workers.



Get Support

Are you planning your next Trench and Excavation project?

Contact the Trench Safety rental experts at Sunbelt Rentals for all your Trench Safety training and equipment needs.

Trench Safety Resources

Dive deeper into Trench Safety with these related articles, blogs, and success stories.