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Road Construction: Past and Present

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The Path to Building a Better Road

Road construction is one of the world’s oldest forms of construction. Long before mankind ever thought about engineering giant structures capable of touching the clouds, our concerns were a lot more immediate in nature: “How do we get from here to there?”

road construction

In fact, the earliest evidence of road construction dates back to 4,000 BC in the Mesopotamia area. These primitive structures, primarily made of sticks and stones, were the end result of a need to increase the speed of travel between food, water and habitation sources. It was because of these early roads that humans were able to settle down and begin forming the world’s first permanent communities.

Road Construction Advancement in the 19th Century

Road construction techniques have, of course, changed greatly since those primitive days. As communities turned into villages, and villages transformed into large city networks, the study of traffic patterns led to tremendous advancements in the methods and materials used to build, maintain and repair roads. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century when construction techniques truly evolved into a force capable of transforming a countryside.

During the 19th century, road building machines, such as motor graders and plows started making their appearance on construction sites. Other steam powered tools, such as the shovel and excavator, were put to use clearing and reshaping the landscape. Adding to this transformative era, Scottish engineers, Thomas Telford and John Loudon McAdam went to work designing better road construction techniques. The pair invented the modern tar road, and they are credited with coming up with the system of raising a road’s foundation to improve drainage.

The Asphalt Road of Today

Road construction has come a long way since those early days of sticks and stones. Today, 96% of all paved roads and streets in the U.S. are surfaced with asphalt. This is an incredible figure, especially considering asphalt was not used in road construction until 1824.

What’s even more incredible is the versatility in which road construction techniques can now be employed to lay down new roads. Modern equipment allows us to readily reshape and form the landscape. As the saying goes, “we can move mountains” (or tunnel through them) in the quest to build a better, straighter road. In addition, advancements in asphalt material and concrete mix have worked to ensure that the modern road will continue to be here for years to come.