Pavement program selected to develop, deploy innovative asphalt technologies

Federal Highway Administration grants University of Nevada, Reno $3 million over five years for national project

Elie Hajj, associate professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, is leading a new collaboration with the Federal Highway Administration to bring innovative materials and techniques to state highway departments around the United States.

Elie Hajj in pavement lab

Making your commute more enjoyable with smooth pavement, and your tax dollars spent more efficiently on asphalt pavement maintenance, engineers around the country depend on the Federal Highway Administration for guidance on the most up-to-date best engineering and construction practices. 

The Pavement Engineering and Science program at the University of Nevada, Reno was chosen for a prestigious project with the Federal Highway Administration to help them administer their program to stimulate, facilitate and expedite the deployment and rapid adoption of new and innovative technologies relating to the design, production, testing, control, construction and investigation of asphalt pavements. 

The FHWA program will help agencies and contractors use the latest technologies in order to provide the best travel surface possible for the public. It’s a five-year cooperative effort between the FHWA and the University to improve the quality and performance of asphalt pavements in the United States. 

“With such a broad spectrum of areas, our entire team, including faculty and industry representatives we work with, can cover all of the innovations, trainings and laboratory work required by FHWA; we have a diversity of knowledge and we understand very well FHWA’s needs,” Elie Hajj, project lead and associate professor in the College of Engineering’s Civil and Environmental Department, said. “We’ll help them help state highway agencies in advancing and implementing new asphalt pavement technologies for improving their pavement system. We’re the right team, at the right time, on the right project for FHWA.” 

The work plan addresses several innovative areas. The first task is to finalize the work plan, which includes: identifying gaps in technology; risk/benefit analysis of adopting new technologies; define target audience for advancing technologies; market summary – who needs technical training or who are end users; message development; barrier analysis; performance measures and outcomes tools for communicate the new innovations; training; refinement of standards and specifications. 

Some of the innovation areas include using innovative binders for asphalt, reclaimed asphalt pavement mixtures, reclaimed asphalt shingles for use with binders and mixtures; and on-site field investigations using nondestructive techniques. 

“This is a highly competitive grant, one for which we had to compete, among others, with the incumbent institution,” Manos Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering, said. “This award solidifies our program as the best pavement engineering program in the nation and one of the best in the world. I want to congratulate the faculty and the department for this major accomplishment, which also exemplifies the College’s commitment to excellence and national recognition.” 

Hajj’s team includes project manager Adam Hand and senior researcher and PES program director Peter Sebaaly of the University’s pavement program; and from Applied Research Associates Harold Von Quintus (also co-principal investigator), Jennifer McCabe, Letha Cozart and Rodney Walker, marketing staff; and from Paragon Technical Services, co-principal investigator Gaylon Baumgardner. 

“We will be helping state highway agencies to accelerate implementation and deployment of innovations,” he said. “Engaging leaders within state highway agencies and industry groups is needed for successful product implementation and deployment.” 

The University’s pavement program includes the Western Regional Superpave Center, one of only five such FHWA established centers in the country. It works on a number of research projects to improve pavements in Nevada and around the country, including asphalt and concrete pavement testing, software analysis tools developed for use around the world, a national research database and superheavy load research - all in the department's five expansive and advanced labs dedicated to pavement and materials research. 

The unique laboratory facilities give the pavement engineers the ability to perform both industry standard and innovative tests. More than 50,000 square feet is dedicated to pavements and materials testing spread across two buildings. The WRSC is certified by the AASHTO as a source for numerous aggregate, binder and mix tests (certificate of accreditation). 

"Our pavement program exemplifies both excellence and high productivity, is conducting research critically important for our state and the nation and has earned a well-deserved international reputation," Maragakis said. “This solidifies our standing as a premier pavement engineering program.” 

“Every paved road in Nevada, and many around the country, have been influenced by the research conducted on our campus,” University President Marc Johnson said. “This cooperative program with FHWA exemplifies the excellence and direction that defines our university, with teaching, research and outreach driving us towards the Carnegie Classification of "R-1" as a high impact research university and in serving as an economic pillar for Nevada.”

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