Mobile lab allows researchers to take their show on the road

By Jeremy Alexander

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) introduced its mobile asphalt laboratory in order to assist state agencies and the paving industry in the implementation of new materials and technology. I recently interviewed Matthew Corrigan, FHWA Mobile Asphalt Lab Program Manager.

Q: How would you describe the primary goals and objectives of the FHWA’s mobile asphalt lab program?

A: Our primary objective is to advance new technology, techniques, performance evaluations and materials to mainstream industry. Our goals, which can also be found on the FHWA website, are as follows:

• Develop, test, evaluate and implement Superpave performance predication testing on a national scale.
• Work with transportation partners to resolve national issues related to the implementation of new pavement technology.
• Develop and validate performance-related construction specifications.

In summary, we are looking to move research into everyday application.

Q: Who would you say benefits the most from the mobile asphalt lab – state and local agencies or paving contractors?

A: The FHWA’s involvement in any job is done through the coordination with our state counterparts. With that being said, the success of the program depends wholly on the partnership between municipalities and paving contractors. All parties certainly benefit to a great extent.

The FHWA’s role is not one of oversight, but one of advancement and coordination. We are not here to police the contractors or act as an arbitrator in product quality disputes. Not only do the individual municipalities and contractors benefit from the program, but I would also argue that the asphalt industry itself is a beneficiary.

While the lab is very involved in day-to-day paving jobs throughout the U.S., the program is much larger than that. The program serves as a central data collection point for jobs across the country. The FHWA uses information from jobs in various states to assist when similar circumstances are presented in other states. Further, the FHWA regularly uses information and data collected at jobsites in the application and updating of the various asphalt testing standards (including ASTM and AASHTO).

Q: How does the equipment found in the mobile asphalt lab differ from a standard asphalt mixture lab?

A: The mobile lab has several unique testing devices that are not found in any/many standard laboratories. Our unique equipment includes:

• Aggregate Imaging System – which is basically a digital camera that captures images of various aggregates and calculates its angularity and form to better assess practical function.
• Core Dry – quickly dries core samples for speed of testing.
• Asphalt Mixture Performance Tester – our showcase piece, which is used to test asphalt mixtures and evaluate them under a simulated environment replicating conditions the mixture will actually receive on the roadway.

Q: During a typical year, how many weeks is the mobile asphalt lab on the road?

A: With the exception of holidays, the lab is continuously operational. Of course, during the winter months, we try to focus most of our attention on the lower tier states (southern), due to weather concerns.

Q: Is the FHWA looking for a certain “type” of job in which to participate? How would a company go about enlisting the lab’s services?

A: We are always interested in “the next big thing.” Our focus has always been primarily centered on advancing new technology and integrating it into mainstream application. We have a continued interest in partnering in these jobs, so please contact your state DOT or your FHWA division office for information on how to request the program’s coordination.

Alexander is the Director of Supply for Asphalt & Fuel Supply in Oklahoma.