Greenwood: U.S. tops Europe in I-75 road test

Tom Greenwood
The Detroit News

Perception versus reality: If only Michigan would construct its roads to the same standards they do in Europe they’d last for 50 years.

Apparently not, based on the results of a side-by-side comparison of a 1.3 mile test section of European and American pavement poured on Interstate 75 in July 1993. MDOT conducted the experiment to see if it was worth the extra time and money to utilize the European style concrete.

OK, first things first: What is the European style method of pavement construction?

The European style consists of three layers of concrete atop a 16-inch thick stone base. The bottom layer is a 6-inch-thick lower-strength concrete topped with a 7 1/2-inch second layer of higher quality concrete which included a premium quality aggregate brought in from the Upper Peninsula.

The roadway surface was topped off with a 2 1/2-inch concrete layer which was constructed with an aggregate surface texture designed to reduce tire noise. The top layer also included a very high quality aggregate imported from Canada.

The European design was also constructed with a shorter joint spacing (15 feet compared to 41 feet in Michigan) in an effort to more efficiently control cracking.

The European style concrete was poured along northbound I-75 from about Warren to Piquette avenues. An adjacent section of freeway directly south of there was used as a “control section” to compare the performance of the European standards against the domestic design.

The adjacent concrete section met standard MDOT requirements of 11-inches of concrete on top of a 4-inch aggregate base with steel mesh reinforcement and joint spacings every 41 feet.

Although the experiment is still ongoing, inspections by MDOT show that after 22 years, the pavement built to MDOT specifications (gasp) is holding up better than the European test section, which is flaking away.

In a recent report MDOT stated: “It was expected that there would be some cracking in the Michigan control section with the longer joint spacing (which is the reason for the steel mesh reinforcement).

“However, what was not expected was that the harsh Michigan wet-freeze environment would cause the top wearing surface of the European test section to start to decay and come apart.”

According to MDOT, the bottom line is that it looks like the European method (which costs 2 to 2 1/2 times that of standard Michigan pavement) isn’t worth the expense.

“The higher costs can be mostly attributed to its special features (exposed aggregate surface texture for reduced tire noise, enhanced structural base support, imported materials, etc.)

“Considering its substantial construction costs and increasing repair costs, the European pavement test section appears to be not quite living up to expectations for the additional cost.”

But all is not lost for boosters of the European system.

MDOT has started to make changes based on European standards and anticipates using a Michigan/European hybrid pavement, including a more premium concrete base layer (which would up the price by about 10 percent), but which could extend the life of Michigan roads to 50 years and beyond.

Fine print: How can the Europeans afford the added expenses but not us?

Taxes: The price of gasoline in Europe probably averages $5 to $6 per gallon with about 80 percent going to road taxes, compared to our federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon.

(The current cost for a gallon of gas in Great Britain is $5.95 U.S. of which 60 percent ($3.57 goes to taxes. They also pay a 20 percent value added tax which brings their tax paid level up to $4.76 on a $5.95 gallon of petrol.)

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I-75: In Detroit SB will have the right two lanes closed from Clark to Springwells from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m. Monday for road work.

I-75: In Independence Township (Exit 89) there will be two lanes closed nightly from Clintonville to Ortonville roads from 8 p.m. Sunday until 6 a.m. Sept. 25.

I-75: In Auburn Hills there will be a double lane closure from Lapeer Road to University Drive from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday for a traffic shift. There will be a short duration when there will only be one lane open.

I-94: In Allen Park the two left lanes will be closed from Oakwood to the Lodge Freeway from 7 a.m. Saturday until 9 p.m. Sunday.

I-94: In Detroit the right lane will be closed from Eight Mile to Conner from 5 a.m. Saturday until 9 p.m. Sunday for freeway lighting work.

I-94: In Detroit EB and WB will be closed from the Lodge Freeway to I-75 from 9 p.m. tonight until 5 a.m. Monday for bridge repairs at Woodward.

I-696: In Roseville EB and WB will have intermittent lane closures at Gratiot from 9 p.m. Sunday until 5 a.m. Monday for utility work.

M-5 (Grand River): In Novi there will be a double left lane closure from 13 to 14 Mile from 6 a.m. Saturday until 4 p.m. Sunday for road construction.

M-8 (Davison Freeway): In Detroit the two left lanes on WB will be closed from 9 a.m. Friday until 3 p.m. Aug. 4 for bridge work.

I-75: All NB lanes are closed at Southfield Road (M-39) through 5 a.m. Monday for repairs after a tanker explosion. Detour is NB I-275 or NB US-24 (Telegraph), to EB I-94, to Outer Drive, and back to I-75.