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Public Roads - Summer 2023

Summer 2023
Issue No:
Vol. 87 No. 2
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Editor's Notes

Guest Editorial

A backhoe and other equipment are being used at the construction site of the new Pavement Testing Facility. Building materials also seen on the site. Image Source: FHWA.Headshot of Office of Infrastructure Research and Development Director Jean Nehme. Image Source: FHWA.

A New Milestone for FHWA’s Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center—Reconstruction of the Pavement Testing Facility

Much has changed in the transportation industry over the years, with technology leading the way. From intelligent transportation systems to nondestructive evaluation, and ultra-high performance concrete, innovation has been the driving force behind advancing measures that provide the Nation with highways, bridges, and tunnels that are safe, resilient, and sustainable.

While the tactics and methods used have changed, what has not changed is the core mission of the Federal Highway Administration to serve as a pillar of safety, strength, and efficiency for the traveling public.

Earlier this year, I was honored to be appointed director of FHWA’s Office of Infrastructure Research and Development (R&D). The Office of Infrastructure R&D conducts and oversees R&D programs and projects that address critical highway infrastructure needs and priorities of vital national importance. Studies in our office focus on the design, materials, construction, operation, preservation, and management of highway pavements, bridges, culverts, tunnels, and other structures.

Looking ahead to the future, what is clear is the importance of conducting innovative research, communicating with others effectively, and maintaining integrity to foster an environment of exchange, collaboration, and ingenuity. Why research is conducted is equally as important as the research itself, and how the research can be seamlessly implemented so that it benefits all stakeholders and partners. New trends in transportation need to be a priority and recognizing how those trends fit into FHWA’s programs and overall goals as an office. While it is easy to fall into a trap of limiting ourselves to what was done in the past, progress and success come by forging ahead boldly with new methods and initiatives.

On any given day, the studies and experiments researchers conduct in Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center’s (TFHRC) state-of-the-art laboratories and facilities make a significant impact on the Nation’s transportation system. The reconstruction of FHWA’s Pavement Testing Facility (PTF) at TFHRC is one milestone that is set to advance innovation by leaps and bounds and is a testament to looking forward into the future and not back to the past.

In conjunction with conducting multiple research programs using facilities and resources external to the FHWA, the Office of Infrastructure R&D operates the following 10 laboratories within TFHRC:
  • Aggregate and Petrographic Laboratory.
  • Asphalt Binder and Mixtures Laboratory.
  • Chemistry Laboratory.
  • Coatings and Corrosion Laboratory.
  • Concrete Laboratory.
  • Geotechnical Laboratory.
  • J. Sterling Jones Hydraulics Research Laboratory.
  • Nondestructive Evaluation Laboratory.
  • Structures Laboratory.
  • Pavement Testing Facility.

Since 1986, FHWA has operated a PTF. The original facility was developed to generate pavement performance data related to design, rehabilitation, and the effect of increased loads and the long-term research efforts of the Strategic Highway Research Program.

After decades of operation, the existing facility and loading and monitoring equipment reached their end-of-life. FHWA needed to construct a new facility and procure new equipment to advance the state-of-practice for holistic pavement design and analysis. A new design for a next generation PTF began a few years ago with a goal of maintaining FHWA’s status as a leader in highway research and continues to provide impartial assessments and evaluations to our stakeholders.

The new PTF facility provides flexibility by isolating four pit areas from each other, which allows independent reconstruction of separate experiments. Within the next year, the PTF will begin experiments targeting resiliency and sustainability.

Two Accelerated Transportation Loading Systems have been procured and are primed to begin testing. These systems can apply 7,500 load passes every 24 hours, heat pavement up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, allow up to 24-inch (0.61-meter) wheel wander to mimic real-world applications such as truck platooning, and use an automated laser-mounted profiler for profile measurements. The facility is equipped with more than 300 imbedded sensors and has its own weather station. The opportunities for the PTF cannot be understated and much more great work will come from the new facility that will improve the lives of people here in the States and around the world.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new PTF facility is slated for September 2023. FHWA looks forward to the beginning of the experiments and the development of innovative products that stakeholders can implement. A web-based data portal is currently being designed to make experiment results available to stakeholders and external researchers so they may multiply the benefits of this major investment in innovation.

Jean Nehme, Ph.D., P.E.

Director, Office of Infrastructure Research and Development

Federal Highway Administration