How the U.S. roads are built and served for 40 years without repair

Driving on Florida’s expressways, as well as on the highways of other states, and on local roads. What is it – they are almost perfect.

And they’re also durable. And the secret here is simple: the American high-speed highways, as, however, and the majority of local roads of different categories – attention! – They’re concrete. And, unlike the European ones, they are designed for much higher loads and capacity.

Rapidly developing China has chosen the American variant of a lining of high-speed highways and for last fifteen years “has frightened” them already more than 70 000 km. And in Russia there are only 50,800 km of federal highways and not at all of American quality.

Highway overlooking mountain under dark skies


Okay, we’re rolling on interstate highway I 75. It stretches here to Florida, from Canada, and we “hit” its final stretch 150 miles from Sarasota to Fort Myers along the Gulf of Mexico. And in practice, we find out what the U.S. road standards for highways are.

An even two-lane concrete ribbon of elastic bands cuts through the flat Florida landscape with woods and numerous swamps of lakes, running to the seaside and climbing over access overpasses to bridges over the bays past population centers. The opposite two strips are separated by either a green strip or a concrete divider, but fit together no closer than ten metres. Maximum speed on highways is from 100 to 130 km/h, minimum speed is 60-80 km/h. The minimum width of the left shoulder is 3 m (it is not allowed to drive on it under any circumstances), the right shoulder is 6 m. In order to ensure the safest exit from the hills, the maximum angle of ascents and descents – 6%, the maximum load – 36 tons. Of course, there are no junctions, no intersections with other highways – high-speed, but not in the form of loops with 90 or 180 degrees turn. Just along the highway laid side understudy, from which you can enter or exit it on a secondary road or streets of settlements encountered on the way.


Caught and repaired sections – they are on highways fenced kerbs and plastic cones, and the speed mode and the narrowed section of the route does not change! Special markings are made of temporary relief “stickers” with cataphots, well visible in the light of headlights – to my surprise, the repair areas are not specially lit, and at night the driver can only count on their headlights. I’m not used to such cones at night, though.

Aerial view of road


And the track itself is laid out as a complex “hamburger”. At first, about a meter of soil is chosen under it. Then, a cushion of gravel, sand and clay is poured layer by layer with a rammer, and water and calcium chloride solution or lime solution is poured. Then it is loosened again and rammed again. The result is a cushion that retains a constant percentage of water and does not sag during road operation. In the next step, a double layer of dense asphalt with a thickness of 5-7 cm is paved – firstly, an even surface is prepared for concrete paving. Secondly, it serves as a waterproofing and prevents water from seeping under the concrete through thermal seams. After that, a reinforcement mesh is laid and the slipform paver pours a 30-centimetre layer of concrete from one thermal joint to another – the concrete must be monolithic. It will gain full strength only after 28 days, but such a highway will serve without overhaul guaranteed 25 years, and in practice – 30-40 years. There are sections of such roads, laid even in 1960 – they are in excellent condition so far.

The experience of American road builders is taken over by China, Japan, Australia and some European countries. The main reason is that such concrete roads are durable (30-40 years) and their maintenance costs are minimal.


At the same time, it is extremely profitable to build such roads. Judge for yourself. For every gallon (4 l) of gasoline paid by an American at a gas station, 2.5 cents are sent to the Federal Highway Fund, adding tens of billions of dollars annually. It is also filled with car taxes, road charges, private investments and securities sales. That is, highways with the help of this fund have become a profitable public commercial enterprise.

More goods are transported on American roads (more than $6 billion) than on railways – it is more profitable. According to expert estimates, the value of the U.S. road infrastructure exceeds two trillion dollars – this is more than 15% of the value of all production assets of the country!

Aerial photography of zig zag road


At the same time, every billion dollars invested in the development of road transport infrastructure in the U.S. leads to the creation of 35,000 jobs (currently more than 300,000 people are employed in the U.S. road construction), and also avoids more than 1,500 deaths and 50,000 injuries in road accidents. Finally, as economists have calculated, every dollar invested in road construction in the United States has saved two dollars over the past forty years – through savings in health care and insurance, reduced unemployment and increased productivity.


It is clear that the U.S. was not born with a road, as Americans like to say, “silver spoon in the mouth”: in 1901 there were only 1200 km of roads with a hard surface of slabs, brick and asphalt (in Russia by the end of the 19th century there were 10,000 km of roads with a surface – crushed stone, gravel or cobblestone pavement). Cars were also a rare luxury – Americans used horses for short trips, and trains for long trips. All has changed after Ford in 1908 has started the world’s first automobile conveyor from which mass cars for “average American” began to descend in million circulations, and has transplanted America on wheels.


And then the Yankees took seven-mile steps, but haphazardly: new roads were laid on the initiative and desire of businessmen who agreed with the authorities of the states or cities, they often crossed, duplicated each other and was very different in quality. Nevertheless, by the beginning of the 20s of last century, the highways had already set up more than 250 000 km! In general, road construction was developing in the context of the Wild West era spontaneous market (like all American capitalism at that time), creating new problems for the growing wave of the country’s general motorization. And because of this obvious need, by the end of the 30s, the US administration for the first time developed a plan to create a federal system of high-speed roads. The first American “concrete” was built in 1930 in the state of Indiana.

Concrete road


It is said that the great American president Roosevelt drew on the map of the country three main routes of highways, which crossed it from west to east and three from north to south (how can one not remember Nicholas I, who personally drew on the map the route of Nikolaevskaya railway from St. Petersburg to Moscow with a curtain in the middle in the place where the monarch’s finger is located). By order of Roosevelt, the Bureau of Public Roads was to immediately begin construction of these highways – thus the president not only facilitated the fate of hundreds of thousands of unemployed thrown into the streets of the Great Depression, but also laid the road frame for a new “engine” of the American economy.


On behalf of Roosevelt, the practical reformer of American highways was Thomas MacDonald, who was very interested in German motorways – concrete, with separating elements, with a limited number of clearly marked exits and drives. In 1941, the U.S. passed the Federal Highway Act – a network of 4-lane highways with a length of 43,000 km, accessible to all states. However, the U.S. accession to World War II has slowed down the implementation of this plan. Only in 1947, the National Committee on Interregional Highways, created by Roosevelt, after his death began construction of a 63,000 km network of highways worth $23 billion. But problems with financing the project led to the fact that the construction of highways was neither shaky nor swathe.

Forced perspective of cars running


But in 1950, the U.S. embarked on a military adventure in Korea and road construction became strategically important, for the first time in the history of the country, the federal government allocated $ 25 billion in 1952, and half of the further costs were to be borne by the states. A year later, over 10,000 km of new highways were put into operation.

General Eisenhower, who replaced Truman in 1953 in the White House of the militarist, proved himself as an advocate of expanded road construction. He is also believed to have been impressed by the strategic concrete German motorways laid by Hitler during the war. (The eastern end of one of them – in the former East Prussia, and now in the Kaliningrad region, is partially exploited to this day, and the two halves of the monumental concrete bridge of this motorway over the Pregel River have decided to dismantle only recently).


At Eisenhower’s insistence, in 1956 a special law was passed that established the Federal Highway Fund to raise funds to support and develop federal highways, finalized a map of the major highways in the United States, the requirements for their construction, the thickness of the concrete pavement, the design of road signs, and approved a 12-year budget for their construction. It was increased by $25 billion, of which 90% was allocated by the federal government. As a token of the President General’s special contribution, George W. Bush, Sr., while at the White House, signed a law making this network of concrete highways the Eisenhower National Highway System.