In the 1800s, the steam locomotive and the Transcontinental Railroad revolutionized transportation. In the 1900s, the automobile and the Interstate Highway System was another game-changer. Now that we’re in the 2000s, our roads are overcrowded, in poor condition, chronically underfunded, and increasingly dangerous. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) only gives the U.S. grades of C+ for bridges, D for roads, and D- for transit.
Yet despite these issues, technological advancements may still provide the next great infrastructure project that can solve our problems and set us up for the future. Here are some of the major updates to road construction on the horizon, that you may very well have a hand in building:
1. Smart-Roads: It’s sort of amazing how vehicle technology has developed so much, while roads have largely remained the same flat surfaces they’ve always been. That trend will end in the future, as the streets we drive on become an integrated part of the digital network. Eventually, vehicles will wirelessly connect not only to each other, but also to traffic lights and to the smart-roads they drive on, sending and receiving information in order to streamline traffic flow, monitor road and vehicle conditions, and even direct self-driving cars and trucks. One day soon, you won’t have to wait at a red-light when no one else is around, because your work truck and the smart-road were communicating to keep the light green. And you won’t have to worry about a lingering pot-hole damaging your car, because the smart-road will send a repair notification to the state DOT as soon as it senses an impending problem.
We may also begin constructing roadways that create energy. Although solar panel roads have so far proven impractical, a new avenue being pursued is “piezoelectricity,” which is an electrical charge generated when certain materials are under pressure. If piezoelectric materials can be incorporated into roads, the pressure created by our vehicles can be converted into electricity that could power street lights, or be stored in batteries, or fed directly into the electrical grid. Early research has been promising, and road-generated energy could soon be a huge benefit to both taxpayers and clean-energy advocates.
2. Multi-Level Tunnels: Although highways have successfully connected our large nation, they also take up valuable space, create barriers in cities and towns, and can be industrial eye-sores. We’re still many decades away from flying cars, so the next best solution may be to move traffic underground. Seattle recently did just that, replacing an earthquake-damaged freeway with a double-decker tunnel that stretches for two miles underneath the city’s downtown area. Constructed by teams that followed a massive boring machine, the multi-level tunnel frees up the above-ground space previously occupied by the elevated freeway and is actually safer in the event of another quake – because instead of dangerously swaying above the ground, tunnels move with the soil.
Newly-built tunnels can also serve as emergency safety infrastructure. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Stormwater Management And Road Tunnel (SMART) Tunnel is a multi-level highway tunnel that can also serve as an emergency diversion structure that redirects flood-water away from the city. With climate change contributing to rising sea levels, as well as more frequent and stronger hurricanes, constructing multi-purpose tunnels may be a proactive measure we could take here in the United States.
3. Loops & Hyperloops: The tubes that make up rapid-transit loops are technically tunnels, but they’re so dramatically different from traditional tunnels that they deserve their own discussion. Loops are still in the testing phase, but the general idea is that you would enter the loop via vehicle elevators incorporated into traditional roads. As you descend, your car is positioned onto a sled-like platform called a “skate,” which travels at speeds up to 150mph, zipping you through the tube and helping you skip all the congested traffic above. There is also the possibility for public transit skates, which would securely hold multiple passengers instead of a vehicle.
Hyperloops, on the other hand, are a whole other level of futuristic transportation. Using a vacuum-based system that sucks all the air out of a tube, thus eliminating wind resistance, specialty-designed pods rocket through hyperloop tunnels at speeds that could reach not just hundreds, but potentially thousands of miles per hour. Similarly, pods could hold a car or a group of passengers. Loops and hyperloops would revolutionize ground transportation, but much like the railroad and highway systems, would require a massive building effort with hundreds of thousands of workers and heavy construction equipment, to create the necessary infrastructure.
From delivery drones to high-speed rail, there’s so much more we could talk about when discussing advanced infrastructure technology. The future of road-building is also bright, with many soon-to-be-built innovations that will dramatically stimulate both the construction and transportation industries. We’re interested to see what comes next – and we want to know what you think. Let us know in the comments below if you’d be excited to work on a smart road, multi-level tunnel, or hyperloop!
About the Author
Ethan is a Content Curator for Trader Interactive, serving the commercial brands Commercial Truck Trader, Commercial Web Services, and Equipment Trader. Ethan believes in using accessible language to elevate conversations about industry topics relevant to commercial dealers and their buyers.