Pavement, one of the most ubiquitous materials on the planet, is the focus of one program in the University of Connecticut’s Connecticut Transport Institute (CTI). The Connecticut Advanced Pavement Laboratory (CAP Lab) researches how to optimize asphalt for roads across the state.
The CAP Lab is headed by James Mahoney, who is also the Associate Director of Operations at CTI. Mahoney explained that most of his time is spent researching pavement directly in the lab.
“There is a large component of my day that is spent on research activities,” Mahoney said. “That could be anything from pavement management to different types of materials to construction techniques. We also do a lot of field work. Obviously a lot of the effects on pavement happen out in the field. We can’t simulate that in the lab no matter how hard we try.”
Mahoney said he also spends time working with transportation agencies to promote best practices for constructing pavement.
Mahoney explained that while pavement may seem insignificant in daily life, it’s a crucial part of how society functions. For example, he said the economy is based on the quality of the pavement around us.
“Our entire economy is built on the assumption that we’re going to be able to effectively transport goods and services around,” Mahoney said. “If that goes away, then all of our assumptions on that are sunk.”
The longevity of pavement also increases safety on the road, which Mahoney said is crucial for saving lives.
“[Pavement] also has the benefit of reducing safety issues for both the motoring public and workers on the roadway,” Mahoney said. “If you don’t have people going in to repair the roads as much, you don’t have as many traffic patterns and things like that. And in work zones, there’s an increased number of crashes that occur. ”
According to the World Health Organization, 1.25 million people die every year in traffic accidents across the globe. It’s also the number one leading cause of death worldwide for people ages 15-29. Mahoney’s work with the CAP Lab helps reduce that number.
Additionally, Mahoney explained that better pavement is a step to more environmentally-friendly transportation because the stronger pavement is, the less energy is required to replace it. Mahoney also said that pavement is one of the most sustainable materials on Earth.
“The asphalt world is one of the few places where the material can be essentially 100% recycled,” Mahoney said. “You can mill it up, and remove it, and incorporate it back into pavement.”
So next time you find yourself in a car, look at the street beneath you — it has more of an impact than you might think.
“If you’re driving over a road and it’s in good condition, you don’t notice it,” Mahoney said. “It’s only noticed when it’s in bad shape, and then everyone gets upset about that. It’s a much more important material than what most people give it credit for.”
Grace McFadden is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.