Tuesday, March 13, 2007

NEW HIGHWAY RESEARCH HUB @ The University of California, Davis

University of California, Davis
March 13, 2007


The University of California, Davis, is going to build two short pieces of road to the future. The two roads, 300 and 1,000 feet in length respectively, will be used for research into more durable pavement, and to develop better highway construction and maintenance methods and equipment.

The roads will be part of the new Advanced Transportation Infrastructure Research Center to be developed on university property west of Highway 113. Phase 1 includes the test roads and two temporary trailers for offices, and site work for the rest of the site. The cost is an estimated $3.5 million, with $3.1 million coming from the California Department of Transportation and the rest from campus sources.

Phase 2 of the project would consolidate shops and labs at the new site, at a cost of about $1 million. This funding is not yet in place; private fundraising is planned to meet at least some of the cost.

The center will bring together two existing UC research programs, the Pavement Research Center, which is relocating from UC Berkeley, and the Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology Center.

Pavement Research Center Director John Harvey, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said existing labs and equipment will be moved in stages from UC Berkeley's Richmond Field Station to the new Davis site.

Harvey himself moved from the Berkeley faculty to the Davis faculty in 2002 and has been anticipating the Pavement Research Center's move.

Ten UC Davis graduate students regularly visit the existing pavement center to do research, as there are no comparable facilities at UC Davis. The Richmond facilities, some more than 50 years old, are "functional but inefficient," according to the environmental report for the Davis replacement project. Some areas, such as the concrete mixing area and the asphalt rolling area, are exposed to the elements, making it difficult to control specimen preparation temperatures.

Harvey said the Pavement Research Center has carried out about $5 million worth of research annually for Caltrans in the last four years.

The new pavement research road will be 300 feet long by 35 feet wide.
Pavement of various compositions will be put down, and heavy vehicle simulators will then be put in place to test the pavement materials and engineering.

Caltrans owns two simulators, both run by the Pavement Research Center. They are 80 feet long and weigh 65 tons each. Researchers can adjust the load that the test wheels are carrying and how much pressure they put on the pavement. Researchers also can make adjustments for temperature and precipitation, to see how pavement holds up in various conditions.

The simulators go over the pavement again and again and again, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Within two to three months, researchers can replicate 20 years of highway use and deterioration, Harvey said.

Harvey said he looks forward to the research center's move to Davis.

"We have several important projects that are ready to begin testing,"
he said, such as new maintenance treatments to make pavement last longer.

With the new center closer to Caltrans headquarters in Sacramento, he expects to see more officials checking in on the pavement lab in person. Harvey welcomes the interaction.

Seeing the research, he said, "helps them understand it and move it forward to implementation."

Without implementation, he said, there are no cost savings -- and that is the whole idea behind the research center, to develop materials and methods that save the state money.

Harvey said he looks forward to collaborating with other campus units on highway-related research, such as drainage and related environmental problems.

Highway maintenance

Steve Velinsky and Bahram Ravani, both professors of mechanical and aeronautical engineering, are co-directors of the Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology program, established at UC Davis in 1991. The center is responsible for such innovations as automated systems for putting down traffic cones and picking them up, and combination GPS and radar systems to guide snowplow drivers in whiteout conditions.

The second piece of test road will be 1,000 feet long by 30 feet wide, in an L shape with circles at both ends for turning. Test vehicles will travel 30 mph or less. The closed course will be an alternative to country roads around Davis.

"Clearly we want to test our machines and tweak them," Velinsky said, "without having to worry about getting run over by traffic."

The center has carried out, on average, more than $2.5 million worth of research annually for the past 10 years, sponsored by Caltrans and other state transportation departments, as well as the Federal Highway Administration and the National Science Foundation.

Some of the center's inventions, including the cone-laying truck and a roadside debris vacuum, have been licensed to private companies and are commercially available.

Center researchers, including five research engineers, four staff members and 10 graduate students, now work on some machinery projects in Walker Hall. For bigger projects, the center rents space off campus.

Additional information:
* Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology
* Pavement Research Center

Media contact(s):
* John Harvey, Civil and Environmental Engineering, (530) 754-6409, jtharvey@ucdavis.edu
* Andy Fell, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-4533, ahfell@ucdavis.edu

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