Soft Roads?

Think about the last time you walked on beach sand, and compare it to walking the same distance on a paved sidewalk. That is the example used in a recent Transport Topics article on road deflection. The article discusses the impact that soft roads have on fuel usage, especially in the heavy trucks utilized in transportation and shipping.

While reading the article, I thought a little more about the roads we drive on every day. Most people would often think that a road is solid, unmoving. But just as skyscrapers sway in the wind, roads compress and rise with changes in weather, soil conditions and the forces driving places on them. With the 80,000 and even 100,000 pound trucks used in the transportation industry today, a lot of force is placed on our infrastructure. Researchers from MIT, on who the article is based, evaluated the effect of road stiffness and found some interesting insights. They noted that current pavement design is based solely on minimizing initial costs, and not on the strength or performance of the materials going into the pavement. What does this mean for trucks? The researchers discovered that these weaker roads essentially cause the tires on a vehicle to continuously drive up a slight slope.

So what does this mean? Increased fuel usage. How much? According to the researchers, creating stiffer and stronger roads throughout America could result in as much as a 3 percent reduction in fuel consumption. Three percent savings is far from insignificant, in fact, that could add up to a savings of $15.6 billion at today's oil prices, according to the article.

How do we improve this? That answer is simpler, enhanced road design. This research summary is just one more example that cutting costs in the short run does not always lead to savings in the long run. It is important we continue to research new ways to help fleets control their costs, and the environmental benefit of using less crude oil doesn't hurt either.

Perhaps we could reduce a few more potholes this way, too.

This entry was posted on September 25th, 2012 by jhubbard and is filed under Recent News & Updates.