© 2020 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri S&T Part Of Research Effort To Make Roads Cheaper And Last Longer

Missouri S&T researchers will look at ways to improve the life of roads, like this section of I-44 in Rolla
Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri S&T researchers will look at ways to improve the life of roads, like this section of I-44 in Rolla.

More than 40 million motorists are expected to hit the road in the U.S. this holiday weekend, and many of them will encounter highways that are cracked or littered with potholes.

Missouri University of Science and Technology is part of an effort to make those roads last longer. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $15 million to 10 universities, including Missouri S&T, to create a National Transportation Center research project focusing on the durability and lifespan of transportation infrastructure.

Missouri S&T will contribute to several parts of the research, including using materials to make roads that last longer.

Jenny Liu, a professor of civil engineering at Missouri S&T and a specialist in materials research, is looking at ways to make asphalt, one of the most common road materials, last longer.

She said the biggest threat to asphalt is temperature.

“Asphalt is very special. It’s a temperature-sensitive material. In wintertime, in summertime, it behaves differently,” Liu said. “It gets soft in the summer and brittle and hard in the winter. That leads to cracks and potholes.”

Liu’s research is focusing on adding a waxy chemical compound to asphalt.


“So we want to use some new materials to intrinsically change the thermal properties of asphalt,” Liu said. “This is another way to enhance the durability and extend the pavement life.”

Liu says the research will be focused on making sure that the new material works and that it is cost effective.

Missouri S&T researchers will also be working on new road designs and better testing to know when roads and bridges need to be replaced.

The latest American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card gave America’s infrastructure a grade of D+ in 2017. The group gave Illinois and Missouri each a grade of C-.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org


Our priority is you. Support coverage that’s reliable, trustworthy and more essential than ever. Donate today.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.