Another salute to this vital industry

This column published as "Asphalt, Take a Bow" in April 2022 issue

Gavin Jenkins / April 05, 2022 / 3 minute read
Gavin Jenkins

I know it’s April, but I’m not done with March yet.

Last month was our asphalt issue, and asphalt deserves more love. If we were all together, this is where I’d ask for another round of applause.

For my column, I was going to write about asphalt’s rich history and how important it continues to be in modern civilization. And you better believe I was going to touch upon the prospects of asphalt’s future.

But, considering the state of our country’s infrastructure, I felt that the Pittsburgh bridge collapse demanded our attention. And given my relationship to said bridge, I felt compelled to share my feelings in this space.

Of course, that stole some of the spotlight from asphalt, and as a result, this issue might seem like a hodgepodge of asphalt stories combined with our originally scheduled program: the system preservation and work zone safety issue.

From this mixture, there are two stories I want to highlight because I think they are really important to the state of our roads. The first—“Prevention and Patching”—examines the plague of potholes that occurs throughout much of the country this time of year.

As a son of the Rust Belt, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. Reducing the formation of potholes and other asphalt pavement issues requires preventive maintenance. And when they appear, there needs to be a prompt response that includes the use of proper materials and methods.

The topic of potholes covers asphalt, preservation, and safety, and our story is important because it also explores the approaches to fixing them.

The second story I want to highlight, “More Resilient, More Sustainable,” is about researchers at the University of Missouri who are testing mixing plastic waste in asphalt pavements.

This story filled me with hope. Like most people, I have a giant collection of plastic bags under my sink, and at least once a week—when using one of these bags—I think of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) in the Pacific Ocean.

Twice the size of Texas and rapidly growing, the GPGP contains 80 to 100 million tons of plastic and an estimated 1.8 trillion plastic particles. The GPGP is an eyesore on our planet, a global disgrace.

As you’ll read in our story, the work being done in Missouri still has a way to go. But I walked away feeling hopeful because of asphalt and, more specifically, the asphalt industry. Of the 2.6 million miles of paved roads in the U.S., over 94% are surfaced with asphalt. There is an estimated 18 billion tons of asphalt pavement on America’s roads.

Asphalt is crucial to this country’s infrastructure. If there’s any industry that can solve and implement a feasible solution to a problem as big as the one plastic waste poses, it’s only natural that it would be the asphalt industry.

With that said, let’s give it up one more time for asphalt.

About the Author

Jenkins is managing editor of Roads & Bridges.

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