A look at modern highway engineering technology

Most people look at highway construction or maintenance as an inconvenience that simply delays how long it takes them to get from one place to another.  But have you ever stopped to think about the technology that goes into designing and creating a roadway?

Just like with computers and IPhones, advances have been made in road and engineering equipment over the past few decades. These advances often bring costs down and have had a tremendous impact on highway engineering.

Significant improvements in time tested processes

For example, paving machines spend a lot less time paving the same amount of roadway because laser technology has helped improve the process of road paving by providing more accurate measuring and guidance. Road surveyors can now use a laser beam to plot a perfectly straight line, which enhances the ability to set grade, height and depth of a planned route.

Step 1 – Laser measurements

Lasers also help machine operators guide their equipment, following a beam for accurate course settings. In fact, automatic laser measuring is now used in a variety of construction equipment and thus highway engineering.

Step 2 – Portal asphalt plants

You can find another example in compact asphalt batch plants, which can now be dismantled and moved along with the construction of a roadway. In the past, asphalt literally had to be trucked into sites one dump truck load at a time.

With these small, movable asphalt plants, a silo holds gravel which is added to a mixer oven with molten tar when the load is needed for the highway. The load is sufficiently heated, mixed, and dumped into a waiting truck. Savings are considerable, requiring fewer trucks and drivers for a job and lower materials costs.

Step 3 – Transportation

The transport truck then delivers the asphalt load to a large, paving machine. The asphalt paver replaces the old, hand delivered way of asphalt paving, which was one shovel full at a time. And now, the entire process is automated.

Step 4 – Paving

The paving machine does everything. It distributes, shapes, forms, and evenly compresses the product as it moves down its required path. Today, modern versions of these large paving machines are self-propelled, operated by a driver who sits in an air conditioned cab. In the past, these machines were towed by a large truck, capable of moving these heavy machines that are made of high grade steel.

Step 5 – Compacting

After the fresh load is laid down, it requires even more compacting. This is accomplished with a different number and sizes of compacting machines. These machines range from small units that work on driveways or drainage gates to very large machines for wide open roadways.

Highway construction and engineering technology will continue to improve as the country’s highway infrastructure is replaced.  And with all the recent improvements in the last few decades, just think what future highway construction projects will look like!

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