Images audio

Research at MSU Creates Environmentally Friendly Ways to Pave Highways

By Lawayne Childrey | Published 23 Feb 2011 12:31pm | comments
MSU researchers are looking for ways to makes the nations roads, safer and cheaper.

Americans rely heavily on highways for commerce, to commute to work, even vacation. But as the demand on the system increases, performance, reliability and safety are key concerns for transportation agencies. As part of our engineering week coverage MPB's Lawayne Childrey examines research being done in Mississippi to recycle used asphalt and make roads safer and cheaper.

Recent reports by the National Department of Transportation concludes that the condition of the nations interstates and highways has greatly improved over the years. However, even with the improvements Dr. Isaac Howard, assistant professor at the Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State University believes much more needs to be done. From his research lab he says Mississippi would be a good starting point.

“The state is plagued with lots of expansive clay. Those are not uncommon, a lot of people will build their houses on things like the Yazoo clay and things of that nature. When you build pavements on that it’s complicated.”

Those complications can include, sink holes, cracks in the roads even crumbling asphalt.
To un complicate things, Dr, Howard and a team of researchers at MSU are developing modern standards for pavement that will help set new standards for the pavement industry. Howard says it focuses on removing old asphalt from the states roadways, grinding it into a gravel and mixing it in with a smaller amount of rock and sand along with a hot black binding mixture.

“Currently that black liquid cost approximately $450 dollars per ton. And so if we can use the recycled product that has the old asphalt binder in it a small savings per ton adds up to an enormous economic advantage. And that’s really what we’re trying to do is make an equivalent or better pavement that’s cheaper, less emissions, instead of dumping these old rocks in the landfill, we’re reusing.”

“We’re always looking for ways to work smarter and cheaper and faster and more environmentally friendly.”

That's Ken Wallace, a construction engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

“With thousands of lanes of miles to maintain, if you can save 20 or 30% on every project we do then you’re talking millions of dollars worth of savings each year. And every million dollars I can save on one project, I can turn around and use it now on another road. So in essence we’ve increased the amount of roads that we can fix with the same amount of funding.”

Even though Mississippi is a rural state Wallace says MDOT actually outshines many other states when it comes progress in key categories like road safety, and pavement processes and designs.

“Personally, I think our roads are just as good or better because we frequently meet with some of the other states at conferences and seminars. And I think Mississippi does as good a job as we can given the funding that we have available per capita. But we are able to maintain several thousand miles of roadway with the funding that we do have.”

Studies show that good infrastructure systems including highways and interstates help attract business to an area. That theory also holds true with truckers who haul large shipments of goods across the country. Cornelius Phillips says he prefers Mississippi roads to many of the other places he's traveled.

“I came off of I-40 and I can say yall are a lot better improved than say that stretch going say from Littlerock to Memphis. Just the other day we came through Tennessee down to Meridian and then back over to Dallas where we’re out of, You know we wanna keep it good.”

Even with its potholes and tattered shoulders and bridges, Dr. Howard says the United States continues to have the best highway system in the world. But he says in many ways the country has started to take that for granted.

“We’re going to have to continually push the envelope and work on things that 20 years ago or 30 years ago weren’t even being thought about. You can’t just take any rocks and black sticky liquid mix them up, throw them on the road and it last for years and years under water, temperature effects, millions of loaded vehicles. There’s a lot of complexities associated with it.”

Although the practice of recycling asphalt has been around for years Howard says MSU's research hopes to soon turn it into an engineering process instead of just a way to dispose of pavement. Lawayne Childrey MPB News.


MSU researchers are looking for ways to makes the nations roads, safer and cheaper.



MPB will not tolerate obscenities, threats/personal attacks, hate speech, material that is ethnically or racially offensive, abusive comments, comments off topic and spam, to name a few. You can see a complete list of the MPB guidelines by viewing our terms of service. If you spot a comment you think violates these guidelines, report it to the moderators by clicking "x" next to the comment, then "report”. MPB reserves the right to adjust these guidelines. If you have a suggestion, please contact us.