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What Are the Different Types of Road Construction Materials?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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One of the most popular road construction materials is asphalt, followed by concrete, but roads can also be made from brick, gravel, and other materials. Material selection involves choosing the best option for the given conditions, considering traffic patterns, weather, cost, and noise issues. Departments of transportation typically review their options before starting new roads or resurfacing projects, to determine the best possible choice. Firms that specialize in road construction supplies typically offer an array of products.

For a high traffic road, asphalt is usually the preferred material. Known properly as asphalt concrete, it consists of a mixture of aggregate bound together with sticky asphalt and then compacted to create a roadway. Such roads require preparation to set up the road bed and design a road with the correct degree of incline; the road needs to rise in the middle to promote drainage, and it must also be banked correctly around curves, as drivers may move at high speed. Concrete is also used for some roadways.

Brick, cobblestones, and other pavers are another option for road construction materials. These tend to be used in areas where people want a specific aesthetic look and the traffic does not move quickly. Fast traffic can damage the roadway surface and may also generate a great deal of noise. Common locations for such road construction materials include historic districts and downtown gathering locations. They can also be used for driveways and low traffic roads.

Earth roads are made by applying gravel and other aggregate materials to create a drivable surface. They are suitable for low traffic, low speed areas. For areas with more traffic, a better option may be a tar and chip or bituminous surface treatment road, where aggregates are mixed with sticky binders to hold them together better. These roads will need periodic resurfacing to keep them functional, but can be a good middle point between an expensive asphalt concrete road and an inadequate earth road for rural areas.

Road construction materials for bridges, overpasses, and similar structures also include materials like steel reinforcing beams and similar supplies to create a stable structure that can withstand high weights. Structural steel, concrete, and other materials may be used to create the supports, with an asphalt roadbed to allow cars to pass. Some structures may need specialty features, like a lift bridge to allow ship traffic to pass underneath, and could require substantial design and engineering.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By MaPa — On Oct 17, 2011

@SarahSon - Asphalt can be a great replacement for gravel. Gravel roads don't usually get a lot of traffic, and if the area starts to get more built up the number of cars on the road can start to make it rough and unpleasant. Resurfacing with asphalt can be a good way to take the increased, but still relatively light load.

Where I don't like asphalt is on a major road. For reasons known only to themselves, my state uses asphalt instead of concrete for some pretty busy roads. Which means they get torn up again relatively quickly. Which means another Spring, Summer and Fall of orange barrels, closed lanes, and traffic jams.

Everything has its place. I just wish the Road Commission could figure that out and start building roads that last a while.

By bagley79 — On Oct 17, 2011

My husband and son have a concrete business so I am no stranger to different types of road construction equipment and materials.

Most of their jobs involve pouring concrete, but they have worked with all kinds of materials. They have done a lot of driveways where the original concrete was not poured thick enough for the weight that was on them.

One couple had a huge camper they parked in their driveway most of the year. Over time, the concrete started buckling because it could not take the weight of the camper very well.

They had to pour a new driveway that was thicker concrete and had lots of steel in it. Even with the proper equipment, working with concrete can be hard work, but they are always proud of the finished job.

By SarahSon — On Oct 16, 2011

When we first moved to the country several years ago, we lived on a gravel road. I think the only advantages to a gravel road are your property taxes are usually lower and you don't get as much traffic.

I don't like driving on gravel roads, especially if there are a lot of hills because it is hard to stay close to the edge of the road. Our cars were also dirty all the time because of the gravel.

After a couple of years they put down an asphalt road which was so much better than gravel. We have not lived there for a few years, but drove out there the other day and they even have lines down the middle of the road now.

That was a big difference from the gravel road that was there when we first moved out there many years ago.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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