NCAT begins fourth cycle at test track

Published: Aug 28, 2009 10:26:00 AM
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Aerial vew of NCAT Test Track

NCAT Test Track

Construction of 18 new test sections on the National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) Test Track is now complete and the heavily loaded trucks will soon begin circling the track 16 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

"This is the fourth cycle of testing for the track, and we are really excited about this group of experimental pavements," said track manager Buzz Powell. The 1.7-mile NCAT Test Track is a one-of-a-kind accelerated testing facility that in two years time allows researchers to apply more than ten years of typical interstate traffic wear-and-tear to the track's test sections.

The sections are instrumented with thermocouples to continuously measure temperatures throughout the pavement, as well as stress and strain gauges. "We measure how the different pavement test sections respond to loads from the heavy trucks and different environmental conditions," said David Timm, associate professor of civil engineering at Auburn University.

Timm's graduate students and NCAT engineers sample, test and analyze paving materials from the test sections and then compare the actual pavement response data to theoretical models in order to design better performing pavements.

NCAT Director Randy West explained that this cycle features several trials to make asphalt pavements more sustainable. "We have pavement sections that contain 45 and 50 percent recycled material; we have sections built with warm-mix asphalt technologies that can reduce asphalt plant greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30 percent, and we have super quiet porous friction course mixtures that improve wet weather traction and water quality of road runoff."

Sections for this round of testing are sponsored by state departments of transportation from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee, as well as the Federal Highway Administration, Shell USA, Inc., Kraton Polymers, Inc., Oldcastle Materials Group, Inc., Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago, and Cargill, Inc.

Since the track opened in 2000, section sponsors have conducted research on a variety of new technologies that help make roads safer, quieter, more economical and longer lasting. "Those successes keep them coming back because this is real-world research that has an immediate payoff," said Powell.

The National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) was created in 1986 through an agreement between the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) Research and Education Foundation and Auburn University. NCAT works with state highway agencies, the Federal Highway Administration, and the highway construction industry to develop and evaluate new products, design technologies and construction methods to create pavements that are durable, environmentally friendly, quiet, safe and economical. Its research center and test track make NCAT one of the world's leading institutions for asphalt pavement research and an important source of information for those tasked with maintaining our nation's infrastructure