Transportation

In-Depth: Experts Discuss The Best Ways To Build Roads In Flood-Prone Houston

They say new solutions will require more research and investment.

We were recently at the George R. Brown Convention Center to check out millions of dollars in heavy equipment, all designed for mining, crushing, and hauling rocks. It was the AGG1 Academy & Expo, a trade show held alongside the National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association convention.

We didn’t get far before we met Julie Andras with McCloskey International. She was showing off a hulking piece of equipment called an impact crusher.

“It’s really a very robust project that will allow you to crush up concrete even if there’s rebar still in it,” explained Andras. “It’s got a great growl, it’s very loud. But that is a very quiet sound compared to when it’s at work. When it’s at work it’s crushing up huge concrete blocks and making a beautiful racket.”

As a vibrating rock sorter rattled in the background, we were curious about latest trends in road building, especially here in the Houston region after Harvey’s devastation. Joel Galassini was happy to tell us all about it.

“When people ask me what I do I tell them I’m Mr. Slate from the Flintstones,” said Galassini. “So it’s pretty basic. We’re running the rock quarry and figuring out ways to build.”

Galassini is the Regional President of Cemex, a company that sells concrete and aggregates around the world. But when it comes to building roads, Galassini says you can’t use those materials the same way in every place. Here in Houston for instance it’s all about the water.

“Most of the problems we see in terms of flood situations are when high amounts of water rush into one central area and overwhelm that area,” said Galassini.

One of the things the industry is working on right now is how to create roads that absorb water by using pervious concrete and asphalt. So instead of taking the water and moving it, Galassini said the road would actually soak it in.

“And I think 10, 20 years ago we took a prescriptive measure and this is how we build a road and apply it,” added Galassini. “Now we’re having to understand water’s going to move this way, or water moves a different way, or you’re going to have different temperatures that are going to affect roadways. And so those are the things we’re really looking at as we learn how can we apply it more at a granular level to find a solution at that specific area as opposed to just trying to blanket across the state of Texas because it’s very different.”

Another big problem on Houston roads is potholes. Experts say that also has to do with water.

We talked about the issue with Nick Schack, Gulf Coast Vice-President for Oldcastle Materials. He says to really fix the problem you have look at the part of the road that drivers don’t see.

“A lot of what causes potholes and aging roads would be the underground subgrade failing and then the surface road collapsing,” said Schack.

Houston’s soil has a lot of clay so that means you have to shore up the road base. And like with many old streets around the city, Schack said you may just have to tear it up and start over.

“It does create some challenges in Houston and what the process to fix it looks like,” said Schack. “And it takes some time and resources and funding.”

But as the sand and gravel business works to meet the challenges of the future, like anything else, it boils down to money as cities look for ways to improve their streets.

Patrick Dunne is the Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association spokesman:

“Really what we’re looking for is a strong investment in infrastructure,” said Dunne. “If we can get the funds to rebuild our aging roads and bridges, that’s going to put people to work. That’s going to allow people to innovate and come up with create ways to get this job done, to make our infrastructure safer and able to handle the growth that’s coming especially here in Texas and across the country.”

And now that those experts are back at the quarry after their Houston meeting, they say they’ll continue looking for ways to build better roads that can withstand whatever nature brings.

Share

Gail Delaughter

Gail Delaughter

Transportation Reporter

From early-morning interviews with commuters to walks through muddy construction sites, Gail covers all aspects of getting around Houston. That includes walking, driving, cycling, taking the bus, and occasionally flying. Before she became transportation reporter in 2011, Gail hosted weekend programs for Houston Public Media. She's also covered courts in...

More Information