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What is Pavement Engineering?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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Pavement engineering is the process of designing paved surfaces to meet the needs of traffic, pedestrians, and the environment. Professionals in this field design roadways and walkways, as well as all related subsurface support structures. Pavement engineering involves both flexible paving, like asphalt, and rigid pacing, such as concrete. They may also design hardscapes and walkways using paving stones and other types of media.

One of the primary goals of pavement engineering is to create paved surfaces that can safely accommodate all applicable traffic, whether automotive or by foot. The structure must be strong enough to support these loads without failure, and should be designed to last for many years. The surface of each paved area must remain smooth and level despite frequent use and a wide range of weather and temperatures. Pavement engineering includes both new work and repairs to existing paved surfaces.

Pavement engineering also incorporates a strong focus on environmental factors. Traditional paving contributes to storm water runoff, which leads to erosion and sedimentation of local waterways. Paved areas also contribute to water pollution, which poses a threat to humans and wildlife. Modern pavement engineering attempts to limit these problems through the use of permeable paving, which allows water and air to pass through the surface. When this is not possible, pavement engineers add subsurface supports and drainage canals to minimize runoff.

Typically, pavement engineering falls within the responsibilities of civil engineering professionals, who design roads, bridges and other structures. Pavement engineers may work at engineering or architectural firms, as well as for cities and municipalities. Others may work for paving companies, acting as supervisors and advisors during the paving process. Finally, some paving engineering professionals may work in manufacturing in research, helping to develop and test new asphalt and concrete mixtures.

A geological survey of the area, as well as soil tests to show local soil composition, are usually the first steps in the pavement engineering process. Engineers may also use other subsurface exploration techniques, such as drilling to better understand local conditions. Next, the engineer gathers information on how a planned paved surface will be used, and what kind of traffic can be expected. From this information, he creates a paving design that will best meet both traffic and budget goals. He may also oversee the paving crew as they execute this design.

The pavement condition index, which was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is used heavily in the field of pavement engineering. This system uses a scale of 0 to 100, and is used to grade the condition of a paved area. The pavement condition index provides a reliable and universal method of rating paving conditions in a specific area.

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