The Past, Present, and Future of an Industry

Article December 28, 2000
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The concrete pavement industry traces its lineage to an experimental 8-ft strip of concrete pavement constructed more than 100 years ago by George Bartholomew in Bellefontaine, Ohio. From this humble beginning, concrete pavements have helped transform our society from agricultural to industrial, from rural to urban.

In the early part of this century, concrete pavements were used to build state and rural highways, and city streets. Concrete pavements also emerged as the material of choice for military and commercial airports.

Half-way through this century, concrete pavements were used to construct the U.S.'s 44,000-mile interstate highway system. At about the same time, the advent of the slipform paver revolutionized and mechanized road construction by eliminating the need for conventional forms.

As the concrete pavement industry evolved, automated subgraders and high-production central and ready-mix plants also improved productivity and improved quality. These innovations saved countless hours and dollars during construction of America's infrastructure.

Today almost four-million miles of freeways, arterials, rural routes and residential streets make up what is considered to be the most extensive, safest and heavily traveled networks in the world. The value of the American transportation infrastructure continues to grow dramatically, as it offers personal mobility, supports commerce and enhances the lifestyles of many people.

There have been many milestones in the history of the concrete pavement industry, but there also are many challenges that lie ahead. For example, many concrete pavements today are carrying three to five times the loads for which they were originally designed. It is quite common to see concrete pavements still in use years or even decades past their original intended life. The reality is that the volume and weight demands on our domestic transportation infrastructure are increasing dramatically.

The industry will continue to meet these and other challenges. To continue building high-quality, high-performance concrete pavements, the concrete pavement industry will continuously improve equipment, materials, process methodologies and quality standards. In order to make these continuous improvements, the concrete pavement industry needs the appropriate funding to support academic and field research.

The future of concrete

The future of the concrete pavement industry, and the future of the domestic transportation infrastructure, will depend on some fundamental paradigm shifts. The roadmap for the future requires the private and public sectors to share ideas through think tanks, forums and coalitions, and other partnering activities.

Systems in place must reward, not punish, the people who dare to try something new. After all, these people are the catalysts for developing new products and procedures. Another key ingredient is incentives for innovations that improve concrete pavements, and in turn, our nation's economic vitality and global competitiveness.

These new ideas must be supported by long-range planning and ongoing investment strategies to ensure the continuation of research. The exchange between the laboratory and the field will be a critical link to the viability of our infrastructure, and so research must be proactive and continuous. In other words, we must constantly question, dream, develop, build and test then start the process all over again. At the same time, we must also understand and encourage what is working, especially what is working well.

So what will we see in the future? We will see larger commercial airliners and more runways to keep pace with larger passenger loads and heavier cargoes, as more people and more goods move around the globe than ever before. Concrete pavements will allow airports to handle this added capacity.

We will see more trucks and heavier trucks rolling along concrete highways. In the future, as now, trucks will be the critical link between goods and consumers, accounting for some 75% of all roadway traffic.

We will see more smart highways, that employ interactive navigational systems in vehicles and on roadways to ease traffic congestion.

We will see high-performance concrete pavements designed for 10-, 20-, or even 50-year life spans. Of course, we will see a greater matching of performance specifications and cost parameters so that specifiers can easily select concrete pavements that meet exacting standards.

On the materials side, we will continue to develop cements and cementitious materials, as well as fibers, and compounds for curing and protecting the concrete. We must continue to improve placing, finishing and restoration techniques so that we increase productivity without trading off quality.

Equipment innovations will include advancements in microwave curing systems used behind slipform pavers, and laser- or infrared-guidance systems for pavers, trimmers and diamond-grinding machines to provide the same navigational capabilities seen in aircraft and farm implements.

Process methodologies

Process methodologies of the future will likely involve enhanced temperature control, moisture-content control and other concrete curing techniques.

Quality control will involve more nondestructive testing methods for both the raw materials and the finished products. Examples include greater use of nuclear or ultrasonic testing of consolidation, microscopic or nuclear sample testing, and computerized testing of a finished slab during its plastic state to allow spot corrections. These methods will not only facilitate the contractor's adherence to specifications, but also expedite the pavement process and alleviate traffic closure problems.

New designs, incentives, materials, equipment and construction procedures will expedite this process. Costs for such methods will be justified by analyzing road-user delays and the ways these adversely affect the gross national product.

We will also see nationwide technology training for fast-track procedures, which continue to make short work of repairs. This, of course, will coincide with the anticipated labor shortages anticipated in the next century, when one-third of the world population the baby boomers will be retiring.

The worksite improvements in engineering will focus on quality, expediency and safety through planning and organizing, using computerized design tools and pavement management systems to reduce engineering time and cost. Construction of composite pavements and prestressed bridge structures will employ portable barriers that parallel the paving operation, improve traffic control, enhance safety and reduce costs.

We will see few, if any, road-user delays as high-performance pavements become more commonplace. When repairs are necessary in the future, a one-mile stretch of concrete freeway will be taken out of service at 8 p.m. on Friday, repaired and returned to service by 8 a.m. the following Monday.

We also will see more incentives and disincentives to enable and encourage faster construction methods, improve quality, and reduce user costs, delays and traffic congestion.

As we make these improvements, we must do so with one goal in mind: Getting in, doing it right, getting out, and staying out.

We all have the responsibility of ensuring the future of our transportation infrastructure, and in turn, contributing to the enrichment of our civilization. The concrete pavement industry will continue to strive to make concrete pavement the right solution to meet virtually any performance or cost requirement. Our goal, our challenge, and the promise we will deliver can be summed up with these words: "Give us the parameters and we will give you the pavements."

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