Enjoy the Ride

Don’t let a smooth ride fool you: fatal flaws may lurk beneath the surface of even a seemingly perfect pavement, with anything from a pothole to a catastrophic failure waiting to happen. But a street-savvy team of investigators is on the case, scrutinizing some 4,700 miles of the most heavily traveled roadways in New Jersey—the routes you take to work, school, and play every day.

Roadway Sleuths
What these high-tech Rutgers detectives discover can save wear and tear on the state’s highways and shave dollars and cents from its transportation budget.

Using an array of sophisticated monitoring equipment, researchers and students from Rutgers’ Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) assess the condition of state-maintained roadways owned by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT). Carrying 60 percent of daily traffic in the Garden State, these roads include such driver favorites as routes 1 and 18, 78 and 80, and 287 and 295.

Below the Surface
“Prevention and early detection are ultimately far more cost effective than late-stage intervention,” notes Nenad Gucunski, director of CAIT’s Infrastructure Condition Monitoring Program and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rutgers–New Brunswick.

The data the CAIT researchers gather can help determine the remaining life of the pavement and uncover small problems that might one day mean big trouble. Even better, the Rutgers team does it without digging up pavement or causing extended lane closures the way conventional assessment techniques do.

Instead, these researchers use ground-penetrating radar, ultrasonic surface waves, impulse response, and more to detect and measure what is below the surface layer of pavement. This is where many problems originate, in the multiple layers of asphalt, sand and gravel, and native soil that compose the roadway.

Added to other transportation department data, the Rutgers information helps NJDOT decision makers recommend the best bang for the state’s road-repair buck.

Vanguard Technology
The technologies the monitoring group uses to evaluate roads, bridges, and other infrastructure may be unmatched in the country. In fact, some of it is so new—for example, the “stepper,” a robotic device that conducts seismic and ultrasound testing—that part of the team’s job has been to demonstrate to a sometimes-wary industry the advantages of nondestructive evaluation.

NJDOT, for one, is a champion of the new technology. Rutgers’ expertise in nondestructive evaluation offers the state a cost-effective tool for allocating road-repair resources, says Susan Gresavage, head of pavement and drainage management for NJDOT. “Ultimately, it will improve the accuracy and effectiveness of our pavement management system.”

And that will keep New Jersey drivers moving.