U of M high-performance concrete aims to improve Michigan roads

University of Michigan develops affordable formula

FLINT, Mich. -- Many people complain about how rough the roads are in Michigan -- especially drivers who've had to pay the price with costly repairs.

"I've cracked eight rims in the past six years," said Shane Keung who commutes from Canada to Michigan for work.

Keung says most of the damage happened in Flint.

How bad are the roads, really?

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Michigan a D- on its most recent report card.

The study analyzed 120,000 paved miles. Only 18 percent of them are in good condition.

"Michigan does not spend as much on its infrastructure and it shows," said Sherif El-Tawil, a University of Michigan professor of civil and environmental engineering.

After hearing about El-Tawil's research on something called ultra high performance concrete, Michigan's Department of Transportation asked U-M engineers for help.

UHPC is stronger than traditional concrete but often patented and pricey.

El-Tawil figured out how to cut costs by buying the components separately and posting the formula publicly for all to use.

Like regular concrete, UHPC is made of cement and sand -- but it's also densely packed with tiny steel fibers.

El-Tawil says it can withstand 100,000 pounds and should last 100-200 years without maintenance.

While it's drastically lower than standard prices for UHPC, it still costs MDOT more than what it's using now.

"You just gotta pay if you want to keep them up," said driver Rod Smith who fully supports paying more if it means higher quality and less construction.

MDOT recently used the formula on a bridge in St. Clair County which is being monitored closely.

El-Tawil hopes this concrete will also be used on buildings, and other infrastructure, in the future.

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