How Road Design Affects Your Winter Driving

Did you know that asphalt and concrete perform completely differently depending on weather conditions? Tom Yager, senior research scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, explained why recently as he detailed the science behind highway construction.


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Water builds up when roads don’t offer proper drainage, and that can cause vehicles to hydroplane or slide off the road. Simply adding slope to the edges and grooves to the pavement’s surface directs precipitation safely off the road.

Two common methods are used to add grooved texture to the road’s surface, The “Diamond grooving” technique uses a diamond-tip saw blade to cut quarter-inch slices into the pavement and enhance friction. In “longitudinal tining,” road workers make shallow channels in wet concrete with a rake. With both approaches, the grooves are placed no more than 1½ inches apart as closely spaced grooves improve drainage and increase traction.

Concrete is stiffer and harder to apply than asphalt, so road crews typically roll out asphalt to repair potholes in the winter. One significant drawback is that asphalt deteriorates more quickly than concrete, though – and the process is hastened by moisture and temperature changes.

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