Researchers from UMass Lowell are taking part in a $14 million project sponsored by the United States Department of Transportation to evaluate the current conditions of New England roads and find ways to improve them over the next five years.
UMass Lowell will join the University of Maine, University of Vermont at Burlington, University of Connecticut, University of Rhode Island and Western New England University on the project. The University of Maine is the lead school on the project and was the institution that secured the funding for the committee, which is referred to as the Transportation Infrastructure Durability Center (TIDC).
According to a 2017 study done by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), road infrastructure is a huge national issue. The ASCE argues that due to years of neglect and budget stagnation brought on by overdependence on old infrastructure, the roads of America are in deep trouble.
UMass Lowell civil engineering associate professor Dr. Tzuyang Yu is in complete agreement.
“Currently, we have more than 683,000 highway bridges in this country. About 20 percent of them are what we call ‘structurally deficient.’ This estimate tells us how severe the problem is,” said Yu.
With that $14 million grant from the U.S. DOT, Yu and his UMass Lowell team will embark on individual and collaborative projects with the other schools on the TIDC in the hopes of creating positive change for local roads.
New England roads have their own challenges. For one thing, salting the roads after snowfall destroys the concrete and leaves large cracks and holes in the pavement. Yu said that his team hopes to find a solution to the cracking of concrete by looking at different materials that may prove to be more long-lasting than the current ingredients.
The TIDC began meeting in June of 2018, but the official paperwork for the project was only passed through two months ago. During that time however, Yu and his team at UMass Lowell have been working hard on innovative ways to assess road damage.
Yu has been working on developing a sensing technology that would use radar to identify structural problems in pavement. Given that information, researchers can go ahead to devise ways to improve the concrete if needed. According to Yu, the work on that particular project is going well.
“We already have faculty members going out to collect data and to perform some computer simulations. We’re on the right track and making good progress,” said Yu.
The TIDC is composed of 26 faculty members and over 100 undergraduate students. Yu leads the UMass Lowell faction of the team. The other UMass Lowell professors involved in research are Dr. Susan Faraji (structural engineering), Dr. Xingwei Wang (electrical and computer engineering), Dr. Zhu Mao (mechanical engineering) and Dr. Ramaswamy Nagarajan (plastics engineering), according to a university press release.
Yu is particularly happy to be working with his students at UMass Lowell. Students involved in the project include undergraduate Ruben Diaz and Ph.D. candidates Ahmed Al-Zeyadi, Cong Du and Sanjana Vinayaka.
Yu said that he plans to bring more undergraduate students as the budget expands and more help is needed on the project. He enjoys teaching and training them on the project as much as he can, saying that their diverse way of approaching problems brings a refreshing aspect to the research.
“I don’t consider them undergraduate students. I consider them as part of the future workforce,” said Yu. “One day, they will become the engineers designing these bridges and maybe maintaining all of them. The earlier they have this kind of exposure to the problems of civil engineering the more ready they will become.”
“They are part of [a] big family,” he said.