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2022 Resilient Roads Prediction Roundup


As 2022 begins, we asked members of the Resilient Roads Roundtable to share their hopes and expectations about what will advance U.S. road resilience in this new year.  Here is a sampling of their responses:

Expanding Perspectives - Tim Sylvester, Founder/CEO, Integrated Roadways

In 2022, we need to be expanding our understanding of resilience to include financial, technological, and design resilience. 

  • Financing resilience, that is, making it possible for road funding to be for the total cost of ownership and total lifecycle cost, helping shift owner assumptions away from the "up-front cost only" approach that low bid encourages, and to a more holistic appreciation of what the total ownership of the road will require.
  • Technology resilience, that is, ensuring that the road we build today is capable of supporting the ongoing emergence of new technology needs over its life so that we don't have to reinvest significant sums every decade or so into a road that was built without sufficient technology enablement
  • Design resilience, that is, how can you design it so that all of the future needs will be accommodated, such as utility access, replacement, upgrades, and everything else that includes touching or modifying the road over its life. 

In my view, building a road without financial resilience is like buying a house without having a job - sure, you may have the down payment, but how are you going to pay the mortgage? Building a road without technology resilience is like building a house without plumbing and wiring - you know you need it, and it's way more expensive to add later, so put it in up-front. And building roads without design resilience is like building a house without doors, you have to cut a hole in the wall to get anywhere, but it's way easier to just build that door to begin with, since you know you're going to need in the bathroom eventually. 

While these concerns may not have been considered in our historical standards, it's also put us (the USA) in the position of needing to improve nearly half of our road infrastructure but with zero capacity to afford it, and since we can't afford to even fix the roads the traditional way, we can't possibly even consider adding in the new technology requirements, as long as we keep this "up-front cost, low-bid only" mindset. So, while the material resilience (what you build it out of) and environmental resilience (where you put it) are important, I feel like the other aspects of resilience are under-appreciated and deserve a significantly higher profile in the discussion. 

Alternative Pavement Materials – Rubberized Asphalt - John Sheerin, Director End-of-life Tire Programs, US Tire Manufacturers Association

In 2022, we’re going to see significant growth in the adoption of alternative pavement materials that boost road resiliency – like Rubber-Modified Asphalt (RMA).  At least three factors will drive this shift.  To start, the groundwork was set when University of Missouri’s Center for Transportation Innovation produced the State of Knowledge Report on Rubber Modified Asphalt last summer which pulls together all the information a pavement engineer needs to get an understanding the technology and gain confidence in specifying it. Next, government agencies are continuing to experience very positive results from their research. For example, in 2021, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) put down 100 miles of Chip Seal Rubber modified chip seal and we think those types of implementations are going to open new doors for the technology. We also expect that the Centers of Excellence and Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) grant program coming out of the pending Infrastructure Bill will create more opportunities to prove the immediate viability of RMA solutions.

Alternative Paving Materials – Recycled Plastic - Sean Weaver, Founder, Neo | President, Technisoil Industrial

With resiliency a key thrust of the new infrastructure legislation, municipalities and countries alike are looking for solutions to their plastic waste problems and increasing the life span of their infrastructure and roads.  Roads made from recycled plastic waste mixed with paving materials are a highly sustainable and resilient answer.  Technisoil Industrial’s Neo solution is the next generation of recycled plastic, repaving technology. We will be commercializing Neo on 3 continents in 2022.  As we reduce plastic waste challenges, increase road lifespans and dramatically lower Co2e (by over 94%), new pavement technologies like Neo, will gain traction globally.

Smart Systems for Resilient Roads - Derek Chisholm, Associate Vice President, US West Region, AECOM

While many innovations in materials and design are in development, I think the near-term innovation in roadways that will be most widespread is the integration of smart systems. The data moving along a roadway will be captured and used to improve safety and reduce congestion; connected vehicles will share information with the roadway network; and owners will access real-time data on traffic, extreme weather conditions, and needed repairs.

Sealing-in Resiliency - Brian Keierleber, County Engineer, Buchanan County, Iowa

The new technology I see developing are improved concrete sealants. Linseed oil has been used for a long period of time with arguable results. The new sealers seem greatly improved. 

Resilience Ready and Shovel Worthy - Paul Schmitz, Market Manager – Public Roads, Tensar International Corporation

The resiliency of our nation’s roads is an important topic to be considered in 2022 especially in this current timeframe of building back America’s key infrastructure assets.  As we have seen from ASCE’s 2021 “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure”, ASCE has graded out the nation’s road network with a solid D and not trending in the right direction.   As we have read in many articles over the last few years, there is a huge gap in the funding needed to fix this failing inventory of highways compared to what is actually spent on an annual basis.  There is some recent good news with the signing of the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act (IIJA), but this will only fund about $55B on average over the next 5 years.  This amount needs to more than double that to really address the growing number of highway miles in poor condition.  With all of this in mind, road resiliency needs to be considered in all phases of planning from federal projects down to the local levels.  Why just throw funding at projects that are “shovel ready”, but really don’t address long-term solutions?   Maybe owners, agencies and designers should be considering resiliency in their designs and start using a “shovel-worthy” mindset in 2022.   A key statement backing up this thought can be quoted directly from the 2021 ASCE Report Card stating, “Repaving and surface treatments might improve a roadway in the short term, but because underlying roadways continue to age, replacing the road might be a more effective solution for the long-term.  Life cycle cost analysis (LCCA) can help facilitate these decisions.”  

I think 2022 will be a key year to advance the cause of resiliency, especially in the transportation industry.  There are multiple academic institutions working on multi-phase approaches to organize a Resiliency Framework for highways and roads.  Funding these initiatives will be a key piece to get the process started, but I foresee the first phases of this analysis to be completed in 2022.  I also think there will be additional legislative efforts taking place in 2022 that will help drive the cause.  These first steps are evident as Resiliency language being included in the IIJA bill signed into law this week.  The language isn’t specific regarding what qualifies as Resilient, but at least the federal government has identified the topic and set aside close to $50B for Resiliency.  I also think many State DOTs will make some Road Resiliency advancements in 2022 and will start incorporating Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCAA) in some portion of their designs especially once they may be receiving federal funding tied to Resiliency requirements.

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Resilient Roadways Editors
Resilient Roadways Editors

Established in 2020, Resilient Roadways exists as part of an initiative to raise awareness and provide a forum for action.

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