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Roadways and Bridges
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 March 2006 Feature
Darrell Harding is the laboratory manager for the Federal Highway Administration, Central Federal Lands Highway Division’s International Organization for Standardization- and American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials-accredited laboratory in Denver, Colo. He is a member of ASTM Committee D04 Road and Paving Materials, the American Concrete Institute, the Transportation Research Board’s Mineral Aggregates Committee AFP70, and the Association of Asphalt Paving Technologists.

Roadways and Bridges

Seeing the Sights on Safe Roads

Day by day, the public visits U.S. national parks, travels on bridges that span miles of waterways and inch along mountain passes to experience the natural beauty of our country. Most people take for granted getting from point A to point B as a simple task, but how many are aware of the responsibility that is entrusted to the Federal Lands Highway Division of the Federal Highway Administration to ensure that the drive is safe and comfortable?

The FLHD provides transportation engineering services for the planning, design, construction and rehabilitation of the highways and bridges that allow access to federally owned lands. This organization supports training, technology deployment, and other engineering services, operating much like a state department of transportation, only with regard to roads in national parks, national forests, fish and wildlife areas, and other government facilities.

With approximately 30 percent of U.S. land under federal government jurisdiction, the variety of terrain, climate, ecology and recreational needs makes for unique challenges. Thus, the need to ensure public satisfaction is a difficult task in areas as diverse as Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii, Big Bend National Park on the Rio Grande River in Texas, or the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona on the Mexico border.

The FLHD fulfills the unique requirements of each natural area and ensures the public welfare by professional networking, working to develop new standards using the latest engineering technology, and by building on the standards established by ASTM International.

FHWA and ASTM International
Not long after ASTM was founded in 1898, two federal government agencies, the Division of Tests and the Office of Road Inquiry, were combined to form the Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering. This office later became the Bureau of Public Roads and now is the Federal Highway Administration.

An artistic rendering of the new concrete-arch Colorado River Bridge downstream of Hoover Dam on the Arizona-Nevada border. The construction is slated for completion in June 2008.

The relationship between FHWA and ASTM began in 1903 with the organization of Committee H, now known as Committee D04 on Road and Paving Materials. This group originally had four subcommittees:

1. Macadam Test Methods
2. Asphalt Tests
3. Road Building Problems Relating to Test Methods
4. Wood Paving Block

Trail Ridge Road in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, peaking at 11,796 feet [3,595 metres] above sea level. With12 miles [19 kilometres] of the road above the 11,300-foot [3,400-metre] timberline level, the road traverses terrain rarely seen by the public with mountain peaks in excess of 14,000 feet [4,300 metres]. The road is closed typically from Labor Day to Memorial Day due to as much as 30 feet [9 metres] of snow.

While these subcommittees were initially responsible for developing standards related to road construction, it became apparent that the need to ensure public welfare was critical.

Safety became a major concern in designing roads. Sharp turns were eliminated, narrow roadways were widened, inadequate shoulders were improved, and poor sight distances and inappropriate travel speeds were changed. Today, signage, illumination, striping, and skid resistance are improved. Rock-fall hazards, as well, are mitigated by the removal of loose rock, installing rock bolts, and netting.

With an ever-increasing emphasis on security, highway designs must now also protect existing and new facilities from vehicular damage, explosions, and hazardous materials spills.

Improving Safety and Security
A current highway and bridge construction project at the Arizona-Nevada border illustrates this resolve to improve security and safety concerns. The Hoover Dam Bypass Project is 3.5 miles [5.6 kilometres] long and includes an Arizona road approach, a Nevada road approach, and a new concrete arch Colorado River Bridge. The 2,000-foot [600-metre] long bridge is 1,500 feet [460 metres] downstream of Hoover Dam and nearly 900 feet [270 metres] above the Colorado River. The present Highway 9, a North American Free Trade Agreement route, crosses the top of Hoover Dam. The project has a number of objectives:

• Minimize the potential for pedestrian-vehicle accidents on the dam crest and on the Nevada and Arizona approaches to the dam.
• Remove a major bottleneck to interstate and international commerce and travel in the west by reducing traffic congestion and accidents in this segment of the major commercial route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.
• Replace an inadequate highway river crossing with a new crossing that meets current roadway design criteria and improves through-vehicle and truck traffic capacity on U.S. 93 at the dam.
• Reduce travel time in the dam vicinity.
• Protect Hoover Dam employees, visitors, equipment, and power generation capabilities at Hoover Dam by:
- Safeguarding dam and power plant facilities and the waters of Lake Mead and the Colorado River from hazardous spills or explosions,
- Protecting the dam and power plant facilities from interruptions in electricity and water delivery, and
- Providing improved conditions for operating and maintaining Hoover Dam facilities.

Sentinel Bridge in California’s Yosemite National Park was reconstructed to resemble a stone arch. The new bridge, with a complete masonry facing over a post-tensioned box girder, increased the effective span, eliminated two pier columns, and was seismically improved. The bridge accommodates vehicle, pedestrian, bicycle, and horse traffic over the Merced River and is the focal point of Yosemite Valley for park visitors and park employees.

Homeland security and national defense are foremost concerns for the federal government. An efficient, safe highway system is a crucial element in maintaining national defense. Thanks to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the United States has this with the interstate highway system.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is ranked by many as “America’s most scenic drive.” The most difficult construction, the final section named Linn Cove Viaduct skirting Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, required top-down construction to minimize environmental disturbance. The viaduct itself was the only access road for construction.

As a young Army officer, Eisenhower moved his convoy from the East Coast to the West Coast of the continental United States in two months. Much later, during the final stages of World War II, his travels on the efficient German autobahns convinced him that a modern high-speed road network was necessary. After he became president in the mid-1950s, Eisenhower authorized the design and construction of the 40,000-mile [64,000-kilometre] interstate highway system with the prime goal of moving troops, vehicles, and supplies great distances in short periods of time.

National defense needs are currently addressed by providing roads within defense facilities that handle heavier loads and provide shorter transit times. Recently over 100 miles [160 kilometres] of roads received assistance that supports the Minuteman missile system in the plains of Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska.

Disaster Assistance and Access Issues
As evidenced by Hurricane Katrina, human life can be greatly affected by the quality of roads and bridges. Thus, national disaster assistance for roads and bridges that have been damaged or destroyed is foremost in the reconstruction of these byways.

In 2005, highway and bridge damage from Katrina in the Gulf Coast area, as well as the record-breaking rains in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, required quick action to at least make roads passable and areas accessible. National disaster relief requires support where significant damage occurs from earthquakes, floods, and heavy rains.

The precast segmental arch bridge on the Natchez Trace Parkway in Williamson County, Tenn., is 1,555 feet [474 metres] long and rises 160 feet [49 metres] above the valley.

Since people today are more mobile and enjoy recreational activities, the demands for improved access to government lands is increasing. Hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, skiing, boating, etc., are becoming more popular. While the scenery is breathtaking, the engineering challenges in improving accessibility are demanding and extensive.

Those in the American road building business — contractors, suppliers, and government agencies — rely on ASTM standard specifications and test methods to provide for the safety, enjoyment, and welfare of the people who travel U.S. roadways. These standards are cited in contract documents and construction plans. More and more material testing laboratories are becoming nationally accredited to perform hundreds of ASTM tests. These methods are used to ensure the materials incorporated in highway work achieve the contract’s specifications, resulting in a smooth, high quality, and durable roadway. Currently, FHWA employees actively participate on a number of ASTM committees, mainly D04, D18 on Soil and Rock, and C09 on Concrete and Concrete Aggregates.

ASTM consensus standards development continues to evolve. People in the road building business need to be actively involved in the process to assure that current technology is used. And the traveling public, while benefiting from the new and improved standards that accommodate heavier traffic loads and higher volumes, can sit back and enjoy the ride.//

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