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UTA researcher earns TxDOT contract to use geocells to improve pavement infrastructure

February 14, 2017

A researcher at The University of Texas at Arlington is working to determine the benefits of using recycled materials and geocells to improve Texas highways.

Anand Puppala, a professor in the Civil Engineering Department, is using a two-year, $360,000 Texas Department of Transportation interagency contract to test the performance of recycled materials and geocells in a highway-widening project in Johnson County, Texas.

This project will help TxDOT's Fort Worth District determine if the geocell concept can be used as an additional tool to provide an effective pavement structure for widening existing roadways. Puppala is conducting experiments using recycled asphalt pavement or RAP in conjunction with geocells to find out if it is an effective way to recycle valuable materials. Geocells are modular structures that are arranged similar to a honeycomb, filled with aggregate, then compacted to support a drivable surface. Sensors in the pavement will collect data from traffic loading and other factors from the site for two or more years. Puppala then will use that data to develop specifications for the design of future projects.

"We are trying to learn if there is a benefit to using RAP and geocells at a four- to six-inch thickness versus using traditional materials," Puppala said. "If there is a slight slope, more traditional materials and a greater right-of-way will be required. This confined system uses recycled materials and does not require as much fill while holding the material in place, so there should be a significant cost savings."

The research is just one example of how UTA contributes to sustainable urban communities, a theme of the university's Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

"Maintaining the state's extensive and massive investment in its road infrastructure costs millions of dollars every year," UTA Dean of Engineering Peter Crouch said. "Dr. Puppala's extensive work with TxDOT gives him a unique perspective on the department's needs and the unique problems posed by Texas weather and soil conditions, and I'm confident that his input will lead to significantly better road quality in the future."

"In addition to contributing to TxDOT's top priority of advancing traffic safety, the project has the potential to improve our ongoing efforts to extend the life of our assets," said Richard Williammee, lab engineer for TxDOT's Fort Worth District. "This would allow reallocation of limited maintenance funds toward congestion relief."

This contract is just one of UTA's recent transportation-related projects, including:
    * The College of Engineering and the College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs are the lead investigators on an NSF-funded University Transportation Center that could total up to $7.7 million over a five-year period. The Civil Engineering Department also is involved in two other UTCs that are expected to total more than $2.8 million in the first year.

    * Puppala's $770,909 TxDOT agreement to use unmanned aerial vehicles to inspect highways and railroads remotely and develop guidelines for how to safely complete the task.

    * Puppala and Xinbao Yu's $336,370 TxDOT contract to use geofoam for repairs to bridge approaches.

    * Yu and Puppala's $743,000 TxDOT grant to model geothermal de-icing of bridges.

    * Sahadat Hossain's $1 million TxDOT contract to explore the use of recycled plastic pins to shore up clay soils that support highway slopes.
About the University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a Carnegie Research-1 "highest research activity" institution. With a projected global enrollment of close to 57,000, UTA is one of the largest institutions in the state of Texas. Guided by its Strategic Plan 2020 Bold Solutions|Global Impact, UTA fosters interdisciplinary research and education within four broad themes: health and the human condition, sustainable urban communities, global environmental impact, and data-driven discovery. UTA was recently cited by U.S. News & World Report as having the second lowest average student debt among U.S. universities. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times' 2017 Best for Vets list.

University of Texas at Arlington

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