The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded almost $2.6 million to the Rutgers University School of Engineering’s Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation for research into safer road construction.
Rutgers will lead a consortium of universities in safety research. CAIT is one of five such centers nationally.
“We get the award and are responsible for administering the money with our partner schools to conduct research,” said Allison Thomas, the center’s communications director.
Partner schools include Atlantic Cape Community College, Columbia University, Cornell University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, Princeton University, Rowan University, State University of New York-Farmingdale and SUNY-Buffalo.
“We will look into technologies and methods to preserve our existing assets and improve the durability of new construction,” Thomas said. “They say if you invest $100,000 into your system you will get five more years of life.”
The money will be used to research solutions to preserve existing roads, bridges, pavement and asphalt and to develop materials that are more fuel-resistant.
CAIT provides tools that fulfill critical infrastructure needs of departments of transportation in the Northeast and nationwide, CAIT Director Ali Maher said. To ensure a high return on research investment, CAIT works closely with its stakeholders to identify problems and develop implementable solutions, he said.
“Two inventions developed at CAIT won the American Society of Civil Engineers’ prestigious Pankow Award for Innovation in 2014 and 2017,” Maher said. “Whether that innovation takes the form of robots that help assess bridge health or insight on asset management approaches that help squeeze every penny out of tight budgets, the center strives to serve transportation agencies and the public good.”
New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation and, as one would expect, its highways takes a beating, she said.
“This gets into the policy area of congestion pricing, how we encourage businesses to have staggered hours,” Thomas said. “We have the oldest infrastructure in the country. The Hudson tunnels are 110 years old. That is a challenge to keep them in good repair. We have old stuff and it is taking much more capacity than it was designed for.”
Safety remains an overarching concern.
“To keep roads and bridges in service while we repair them is a big challenge,” Thomas said. “When you close a lane, it does not help congestion or capacity. We have figured out how to gauge the condition of transportation assets, and have developed technology that gathers data about the condition of a road, tunnel or bridge rather than using traditional methods — visual inspection. We are applying and combining new technologies that allow us to gather quantitative information about the condition of our assets and detect small problems, even those that are not visible yet.”
Engineers use ground-penetrating radar, infrared-detection devices and sensors. Electrical resistivity gives information about how corrosive the environment of concrete is. A big issue with bridges involves their concrete decks and rebar steel-rod reinforcements.