State grants fund recycled road surfaces

May 3, 2021

Michigan is looking for new uses for old tires.

A set of grants from the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy will fund projects to mix recycled tires with asphalt to pave roads.

Clare County and Bay County are splitting the almost-$400,000 grant, along with Michigan Technological University, which will evaluate the project.

Zhanping You at Michigan Technological University will oversee the evaluation of new rubber-infused pavements funded by a state grant.
Credit Michigan Technological University

Dewayne Rogers, who manages the Clare County Road Commission, said using recycled rubber will both help the environment and -- hopefully -- save money in the long run.

The rubber-infused road surface has a higher up-front cost than regular pavement, he said, but it should last longer. Rogers said the slight elasticity of the rubber will allow the road to better absorb the impacts of heavy trucks and last longer through the freeze-and-thaw cycles of Michigan winters.

And substituting rubber for gravel also preserves what might seem like a limitless resource, said Rogers. Gravel mines don’t last forever, he said.

“I mean, they run out. Eventually the pit runs dry, and then it’s harder and harder to get, so recycling materials that take up landfill space is kind of a good idea,” said Rogers.

Demand for recycled tires will also keep them out of landfills, he said. “We’re going to be using, like, thousands of tires that would normally sit in a landfill, and now they’re going to not be in a landfill, they’ll be in our road.”

Overseeing the project’s evaluation will be Zhanping You, a distinguished professor of transportation engineering at Michigan Technological University.

You said his assessment of the road surface will track its ability to withstand the weight of vehicles and variations in temperature, as well as creature comforts like smoothness of the ride and loudness of traffic.

He said he’s anticipating strong results. “Rubber asphalt will have a better chance to give you a good ride quality while reducing the amount of noise,” he said.