College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Intelligent construction practices developed for roads also apply to levee construction

The same technologies that Iowa State University’s David J. White is developing to build better roads and foundations could also be used to build better river levees.

White, the Waldo W. Wegner Associate Professor in Civil Engineering, leads the crew working with Iowa State’s Geotechnical Mobile Lab. In six years of operation, the lab has visited construction sites in 22 states to test new ideas for making sure solid, long-lasting earthen foundations are built under roads and buildings.

“The work we’re doing is extremely important,” White said.

First, “Earth materials are the world’s most abundant construction materials – and the most variable construction materials.”

And second, “The improper use of earth materials contributes to billions of dollars in taxpayer expense for roadbeds, levees, foundations for buildings and slopes that fail.”

White, for example, said up to $100 billion a year is spent because of bad roads. That includes the cost of road repairs, the wear on cars and time lost to traffic delays. If better, smarter construction practices can save just 1 percent of that, that’s $1 billion that can be spent on other needs.

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