It’s a good time to hit the road
By Tom JacksonJanuary 18, 2022
Whether you are a contractor, OEM, technology company or a government agency handing out the money, it’s a good time to be in the roadbuilding business.
“Across many markets, we see a big push for roadbuilding projects as investment and the need for improved infrastructure remains high,” says Frank Dörrie, global product manager road from Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE).
What’s fascinating about this resurgent industry is just how different it is from east to west. In the East, China and India are building new roads at a furious pace. In the West, the U.S. and Europe are leveraging new technology to make roadbuilding and transportation infrastructure greener.
“Road networks in many places around the globe are showing visible signs of age. These road infrastructures require structural maintenance and repairs in order to ensure their long-term functional capabilities,” commented a spokesperson from the Wirtgen group.
“Especially in such scenarios, the cold recycling method is a sustainable alternative to conventional construction techniques that addresses and satisfies the world’s urgent needs for road rehabilitation with the necessary speed.”
Potential impact of $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill
In November the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) drew cheers from the industry. Some $126 billion of that money will go directly to the Department of Transportation to use on roadways over the next five years, an increase of about 30%.
Having the funding guaranteed means that roadbuilding contractors can confidently invest in new equipment knowing that the work to pay for it will be coming – great news for OEMs.
“The passage of the infrastructure bill is a positive step in keeping the U.S. competitive in the world market,” says Kent Godbersen, vice president of worldwide sales and marketing at GOMACO. “We have neglected our most vital assets for far too long and this funding will provide economic benefits immediately and long into the future.”
A big question now is: Exactly what does the U.S. do with this money? How much will be dedicated to traditional roadbuilding and how much will go to alternative forms of transportation infrastructure?
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has expressed a passion for passenger rail and has also said funding would favor projects that reduce greenhouse gases, increase safety, boost job creation or advance racial equity. Another trend in the U.S. is driven by a loose-knit but increasingly influential
group of transportation professionals who are pushing for more investment in multi-modal forms of transportation - the biggest change in U.S. transportation philosophy in more than a half century.
The IIJA includes the largest-ever federal investment in public transit, allotting $39 billion to modernize systems, improve access for the elderly and people with disabilities, and repair more than 24,000 buses, 5,000 rail cars and thousands of miles of train tracks. Zero emissions transportation is a priority of the infrastructure bill, with $831 million dedicated to EV charging stations, with an aim to have 500,000 EV chargers in place by 2030.
Going multi modal
Eric Courchesne, the geospatial services manager in the Department of Geography at the University of Alabama, has been working with the school’s Alabama Transportation Institute (ATI) on a software product that uses aerial imagery and artificial intelligence to identify and map out urban streets that could best be adapted to bike lanes.
Designed to help urban planners and government officials, the ATI’s software considers not only the physical attributes of the existing road, but the average vehicle speed on the road, the volume of traffic and economic variables — such as proximity to stores, parks, churches and schools — that might make a multi-modal solution more desirable.
Courchesne is especially keen on electric bikes. “The big cities absolutely have as much potential as the small ones with the electrification of personal mobility, in particular, cities where parking is at a premium and cost of living is high,” he says. “Where there are a lot of young people who can’t afford to own a car and a parking spot, you’re going to see a substantial increase, at least 10%, probably closer to 15% to 20%, in e-mobility.”
The conversion of car lanes to bike lanes is good for car drivers too, says Courchesne. “If you reduce car traffic by just 10%, car drivers benefit with less traffic and more parking. And bike lanes are the cheapest possible investment that a city can make in in their infrastructure,” he says.
Social justice goals are also furthered by multi-modal forms of transportation as many low wage workers spend an inordinate amount of their income on transportation or can’t afford a car to get to work. “The federal government under this current administration has included that as one of the criteria that they’re looking for in cities,” says Courchesne.
Advancements in concrete technology
There is a considerable amount of research being devoted to building better concrete pavements, says Kevin Klein, president of research and development at GOMACO. The research is being directed to PEM (Performance Engineered Mixtures) for concrete. New testing methods are also being applied for quality control and quality assurance.
The controls on machines that place, consolidate and finish concrete pavements are also improving, Klein says. “All of this is coming about because of advancements in the technology being applied across the entire spectrum of our business. Contractors need their employees up to date on these technology trends and they need to strive to build the best pavements they can achieve to remain competitive.”
There is also a lot of talk about technology being imbedded in pavements, but Klein thinks it’s too soon to predict where that is going. “There will certainly
be communication technology so that our vehicles can communicate with each other, and likely some type of technology that will charge our EVs as we drive,” he says. “However, I believe the concrete pavement industry will be much better positioned to implement whatever technology can be embedded into pavements because it will be easier to place the technology transmission devices in concrete as opposed to asphalt.”
The company’s new GP3 Smart Paver was designed to easily accommodate multiple width changes. It has a roller frame with dual telescoping capabilities of up to seven feet on each side of the paver, for a total of 14 feet of automatic frame widening.
All pavers are equipped with the latest GOMACO G+ control system along with GRD (GOMACO Remote Diagnostics) which allows the company to communicate with the machine remotely. The GOMACO Navigator software brings all the G+ paver accessories (TBIs, CBIs, GSI, vibration, etc.) together for easy control and allows machines in a paving train to communicate with each other.
The automatic screed control function on Trimble’s Roadworks 3D Paving control improves quality and productivity by eliminating the stringline.
Volvo CE is anticipating new solutions for asphalt types, especially for bitumen or bitumen substitutes to process the recycled material, says Dörrie. In Europe there is also emphasis on increased health and safety protection, he says. “As an example, we see an increase in orders for fume extractor systems. There is also understandably a push towards more sustainable technologies as a clear response to the urgent climate crisis.”
As such, the Volvo Group has been validated by the Science-Based Targets Initiative with a goal to reach net-zero value chain greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, says Dörrie. “The design of Volvo CE machines of the coming years will take this into account and factor in the roughly 10-year life span of our machines.
Horizontal directional drilling may not be a primary roadbuilding application, but in developed areas where existing bridge and highway infrastructure needs rehabilitation, HDD contractors, particularly those who can do large river crossings, are being called upon.
On many older bridges utilities were hung along the side, says Richard Levings, product marketing manager for American Augers. “When these bridges are replaced or rehabilitated, they don’t want them hanging there for a lot of different reasons, so we have several contractors who use our Maxi HDD to reroute the utilities underground or under rivers or large bodies of water in some cases,” he says.
Large bore HDD can also be called into use when pipelines are rerouted to make way for new or expanding highway infrastructure, Levings says.
Topcon’s SmoothRide was used to resurface the Silverstone Circuit a motorsports racing circuit in England.
The big advancements in large bore HDD have come in the areas of better controllability through electric-over-hydraulic systems and better displays with more instantaneous feedback, Levings says. “The drills are faster, more efficient and they are easier to set up and tear down. Also, telematics allow us to tap into the diagnostics and make adjustments to the rig anywhere around the globe.”
As mentioned, technology is becoming increasing integrated into road construction. Topcon Positioning systems developed a system called SmoothRide that starts with a LiDAR scan of the entire road surface slated to be overlaid.
The data is processed and converted into a digital model that calculates the difference between the existing pavement and the required design. With
Topcon’s Magnet software the digital model can be sent to the milling machine allowing for variable depth milling.
Another new development is Trimble Earthworks Grade Control Platform version 2.4 with support for soil compactors is a GNSS-based, 3D compaction control solution designed to make soil compaction more accurate, faster and easier.
Office-to-field connectivity enables efficient communication and data transfer across the project. Trimble has also introduced the Trimble Roadworks 3D Paving Control Platform for Asphalt Pavers with an automatic 3D screed control system that can improve paving productivity and rideability.