Originally published in The Northern Light
Learning to dodge potholes and control your car in ruts is just part of learning to drive in Alaska. Professor Osama Abaza is hoping to change this.
In the civil engineering department, Abaza and his team are researching and working alongside the department of transportation to tackle the issues of Alaska’s highways.
For over 10 years, Abaza has worked with a myriad of student researchers to come up with, test and experiment with a new form of concrete. This rubberized concrete uses crushed up waste tires and is strengthened with steel fiber. The combination allows for durability as well as flexibility, both of which are important for climate-related road expansion and contraction.
“This research could revolutionize how materials engineer combat rutting. By using steel fibers and rubber, they are fighting against rutting from studded tires while also protecting our roads from permafrost heaving and cracking. If this concrete is the answer to our rutting problems, this will mean less road maintenance, and ultimately less money spent on costly repairs and road rehabilitation,” Melissa Frey, an undergraduate engineering student at UAA and a member of professor Abaza’s current research team, said. “Our state hasn’t really seen a material like this before, but implementing this material could really change Alaska’s transportation engineering.”
What’s special about this concrete is that it will prevent ruts and potholes from occurring on the states highways.
“It’s going to prevent ruts from happening. Concrete doesn’t develop potholes. You’re not going to see any ruts or potholes on our roadways, that is of course if we decide to use this material,” Abaza said.
More than ruts and potholes, this material will allow Alaska’s highways to last longer.
“Our roads have a lot of ruts on it. Usually what [Department of Transportation does] is rebuild the road every 4 to 6 years. That same road lives in the lower 48 for 20 years. We have all these issues because of our weather and the use of studded tires. With this concrete, our roads could live for 20 years and we can avoid turning our town into a construction zone,” Abaza said.
When testing this new material out, students and faculty were able to take advantage of the engineering buildings state of the art pavement lab.
“We have one of best labs, even in the lower 48, for testing this,” Abaza said.
Last September, UAA put a slab of this new concrete in front of the parking garage near the Consortium Library. It’s being tested, while students during the summer created slabs to place on Abbot Road. Those test slabs, which will have sensors in them to detect expansion rates, will be placed onto Abbot Road in the spring and then observed for three years.
“We know for sure it’s going to work, but now we have to convince the public,” Abaza said.
The price of this new concrete is much higher than the asphalt the DOT uses now, but the state will be saving money in the long run if the roads can last longer.
“The concern is that the material is going to cost a lot more, but if you look over life cycle cost of the material it’s going to be way cheaper than what we are doing now,” Abaza said.
With UAA and the DOT working together. students can get hands-on training working in their community and have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom to the field.
“I’ve been working with him when I came on board to do further testing on the feasibility of construction. My background is with DOT construction. I’ve been working with him since the start of my thesis,” Mahear Aboueid, a UAA grad student who is also a project manager at the DOT said. “I think the chemistry behind this material is definitely positive towards resisting stud ware and freeze/thaw. As part of DOT and UAA, it’s nice seeing both sides are wanting to work with each other. I think it’s a great thing to be mutually beneficial in helping the community.”
Abaza also sees the benefit UAA can have the community. Whether it be putting students in the hands-on learning environment by working with DOT or working on research that can save the state money while also keeping Alaska drivers safer; Abaza looks to build a bridge with UAA and community entities.
“In order for us at UAA to be really effective in the community, we are supposed to help the community and figure out new solutions. I want to show that UAA is really a resource to provide solutions. We have way more responsibility than to just graduate new engineers,” Abaza said.
Abaza and his team are currently waiting til the spring to place their concrete slabs in Abbot Road. Once placed, the slabs sensors will monitor expansion and contraction for three years.