Here’s some asphalt arithmetic for you motorists who commute an hour every day to work, or even if you have a five-minute commute, well, really for any person who operates an automobile on a daily basis. Thirty-two percent of major roads in the U.S. are in poor or mediocre condition, which costs travelers roughly $67 billion a year in the form of additional vehicle operating costs, which comes out to $324 per motorist. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers released a report card for America’s infrastructure, giving the grade of a “D” for U.S. roads.  

In December of 2015, the National Highway Trust Fund program provided a several-year extension for funding of roadways; however, it doesn’t fix the problem of paying for transportation projects long-term. There are two options that California law makers are exploring to pay for the quickly deteriorating roads of our nation: one option being raising the already highest-in-the-nation gas tax, and the other option being charging motorists per miles driven. Critics of these suggestions are worried about the extra costs and the government being able to track the movement of motorists.

The Trump administration is talking about a one trillion-dollar fund for infrastructure build, which will fund a lot of road work for many years, but at the same time, the purpose of the geosynthetic roadways is to stretch the American tax-payer’s money as far as it can go and using the money funded more efficiently.

Becci Hart, president of Intermark Public Relations said, “The problem with the National Trust Fund is even though Washington has approved it, they still don’t know where that money is going to come from. It’s a finite pool of money, so the thing that we think governments and private entities have to consider, is if you got this finite pool of money, how do you do the most with that money? The answer is through innovation. You do the best you can, you build the most roads you can with that money, roads that will last longer and that need fewer repairs.”

Eli Cuelho, a research engineer at the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University since 1998 and program manager of Infrastructure Maintenance and Materials has devoted 18 years of testing geosynthetic materials, “geo,” meaning earth and “synthetic,” meaning to imitate a natural product. His research focuses specifically on infrastructure problems, mostly to do with roads. His area of expertise, geosynthetic materials, are used for reinforcing purposes on earthen surfaces such as slopes, dams, levies, and of course, roads to reinforce the structure of them to make them last longer. This is the long-term fix for deteriorating roads across the nation. Now, let’s delve deeper into the specifics of this topic.

TenCate Geosynthetics Americas, headquartered in Pendergrass, Georgia, is a company that produces and constructs more than 1,000 woven and non-woven geotextiles, geogrids, geotextile tubes, prefabricated vertical drains and composite geotextiles. It’s award-winning line of Mirafi products have provided solutions for reinforcement across the nation and are widely accepted and used in almost every country in the world. One Mirafi product specifically has outperformed every geosynthetics tested in the Western Transportation Institute and Montana State University research study “The Relative Operational Performance of Geosynthetics Used as Subgrade Stabilization” study on road construction, which is called Mirafi RS580i.

This study was commissioned by nine state departments of transportation: New York, Texas, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Idaho and Wyoming, and found that the use of the product in road construction can more than double the life of a road, reduce CO2 emissions, shorten construction times and ultimately save tax payers money. Mirafi RS580i has been used in the Presidio Parkway approaching the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and five other major structures across the U.S.

Todd Anderson, Vice President of Sales and Marketing of TenCate Geosynthetics said, “As we’re very involved in the infrastructure and roadway business, we’re interested in getting the word out about our particular products that we think offer something new and different in that market. We think they bring an advantage to the table that should be more widely understood because they offer real value to tax payers and owners of roadways, which are generally governments, and reduce maintenance cost and get them to last longer.”

Traditionally when roads are made, there is the material that was deposited there naturally, such as clay or soil, and then they lay about 24 inches of rock or gravel on top of the natural material, which provides some sort of base structure that’s going to be able to provide the structure of the road and hold it together. Then, asphalt is poured onto the structural layer of the road. When building roads with geosynthetic material, the trampoline-like material goes between the natural ground and the stone structure that holds it together, thus expanding the longevity of the road extensively. Let me tell you how.

The soils that reside underneath the rock or gravel will over time migrate up into the stone and rock structure that’s supposed to be highly-frictional material, and when you can keep that clean and keep it in its original state, then it’s going to last longer. By using a material that goes between those two layers to separate them, you keep that structure intact for a longer period of time, so you are going to get more life out of the roadway and as the wearing surface deteriorates over time, such as potholes, you can then just strip off the top layer and replace the top asphalt instead of having to rebuild the structure from the bottom up, Eli explained.

Todd said, “We have all this money coming in, but just because you have more money you should still want to spend it more efficiently. So, if you can build the same road better for 5 percent less, you would do that. If you can build a road with less resources, you save money, even though you have to buy the product, but it also has the benefit that you don’t have to mine it or truck it and the CO2 emissions related to mining are lowered and you’re saving natural resources as well.” Todd also explained that without the geosynthetic material, about 24 inches of gravel and rock is laid, and with the material in place, you cut that down to only 14 inches of gravel laid, which can be transported elsewhere and saves resources.

“We often use the analogy of a house, a house has a really solid foundation, and if something happens to the roof or the wall, it’s not that big of deal because that can be fixed easily, but if the foundation of the house were to fail, you have to remove everything from the top to get down into it to fix it properly,” Todd said. “Same thing with a road. If you build the foundation of the road well, it’s going to last that much longer. It ultimately saves tax payers money.”

Up to 50 percent less gravel is used with building roads with Mirafi products and this results in a cost savings of up to 33 percent on paved roads and 50 percent on unpaved roads. To get a picture of how much gravel is saved, the amount saved is 85,000 tons, which is a little more than the volume of the Washington Monument, enough gravel to fill more than 14 Olympic-sized swimming pools, or the volume in four Goodyear blimps.

Maybe the next time Amador County receives funds for rebuilding our infrastructure, we can consider this new innovation to use our funding more efficiently.

All statistics, reports, facts and studies included in this story came directly from TenCate Geosynthetics press releases and personal interviews with Eli Cuelho, Todd Anderson, Becci Hart and Patti Murray.