One of the biggest frustrations as a driver is swerving in and out of the roads to avoid potholes during the winter months. Then, once the snow is gone, construction to fix those potholes leads to a never ending hassle as a driver. Scientists and engineers are finding new solutions to prevent this cycle from reoccurring every year with things like self-healing roadways, recycled plastic, solar roadways, and the return of gravel.
The downfall to asphalt is that it not durable which creates those cracks and potholes that frustrates drivers. A scientist in the Netherlands created a self-healing asphalt that has small steel fibers to make the asphalt conductive. Through an induction machine – a huge magnet – the asphalt and small fibers will fill those small cracks on their own.
Self-healing roads are also being used in China, but their materials are much more scientific. Their pavement is a combination of composite materials and microcapsules that will keep asphalt from aging poorly by improving and delaying the aging process, preventing the expansion and cracking of asphalt and reducing maintenance costs.
The estimated cost of these self-healing materials would be up to 25% more expensive than traditional asphalt, but that cost comes with a more durable road with a longer life span. Due to these cost advantages, the Netherlands calculated they could save up to 90 million Euros in one year if all their roads were self-healing.
Plastic being used for roads may seem crazy, but the research behind it proves it to be not only innovative, but cost efficient and practical. Plastic roads can be up to 60% stronger and have a life span lasting 10x longer than traditional roads. They are also much better for the environment. The materials are easier and cost less because of the design of the product; plastic is lightweight and prefabricated. Plastic is also water resistant and hollow, which helps store rainwater to prevent flooding. Finally, using plastic for roads is beneficial because when it is worn out, the road or path can be recycled again making this design circular!
Places like California and the Netherlands are already dipping their feet in using plastic for their roadways and bike paths. Aside from the recycling aspect, plastic roads are also environmentally friendly because the process of repaving the road works cold, whereas the standard process requires heat, saving more energy and does not need the large amounts of trucks and equipment to lay the plastic down.
Starting back in 2011, a couple in Idaho received a Small Business Innovative Research contract by U.S. DOT which led to a $2.2 million campaign for testing solar roadways. The testing is ongoing, working on the economics for implementation in large cities. These solar panels, made up of hexagonal glass-covered panels, are intended to turn roadways into self-heating, self-lighting power plants.
Solar roadways are intended to modernize the highway system and kill two birds with one stone – avoid damages to roads and obtain a sustainable energy source for cities. The downfall of these solar panels is the high cost to install. But, with all the benefits, there is hope that solar roadways will eventually pay for themselves.
The Return of Gravel
The overall cost for a city to pave their roadways with asphalt can be very expensive. The average cost in 2020 to install asphalt is between $1,967 – $6,355 just for driveways. To mitigate this expense, last year 27 states in the U.S. converted their roadways from pavement to gravel. This switch led to these cities avoiding costs like re-paving and pothole maintenance that street repair companies could not keep up with eventually leading the streets to become worse.
Although the cost deduction for cities is a big positive, residents of these towns are not happy with the decision to convert to gravel roadways. With dirt and dust getting pulled in houses or damaging cars, homeowners would rather have paved roads rather than gravel.
What Does the Future Hold?
One thing drivers hate more than potholes, is construction. So, changing every road in America to be eco-friendly right away wouldn’t be practical, especially in cities that aren’t susceptible to potholes and asphalt cracking. However, with the advancements of technology and automobiles, smart cars will then lead to smart highways, smart bicycles, and smart traffic lights. Who know what the future really holds for roadways? What kind road would you prefer to have in your city? Reach out to us on Facebook or Twitter and let’s talk!