Living in the Upper Midwest isn’t without its challenges – large amounts of snowfall, frigid temperatures, and icy surfaces are just a few of the reasons many people head south during our seemingly never-ending winter months. We sat down with Principal Engineer Brian Malm over a cup of joe to talk about some of the challenges our engineers must overcome when designing roads for colder climates.
BM: Who am I looking at? Am I looking at you? *laughs* I just want to know where to look.
Coffee Break: Episode 1 – Brian Malm
BM: This is harder than it looks.
CB: Name and position at Bolton & Menk?
BM: My name is Brian Malm, I’m a principal engineer in the Rochester office, and I like my coffee with a little bit of cream in it.
CB: What’s one thing to consider when building roads in snowy climates versus dry climates?
BM: So, one of the things we have to take into account is public works maintenance staff. One of the things about designing roadways in winter climates is the snow removal aspect. In snowy climates, we need to take into account the tapers on those curb bump-outs to make sure they’re easier to plow for public works maintenance staff.
CB: Cold temps and snow affect timing and duration of construction, but can it also influence design?
BM: It does. Keeping the pavement section dry is key in any climate, so keeping water out the pavement is especially important. In order to combat that, we design our pavement sections with as much frost-free granular material in the pavement section as possible to help keep it dry. We put in subsurface drainage to carry water away from that base to keep it dry and help prevent frost in that upper pavement section as much as possible.
BM: Can you cut this all together? Am I making this a hard job for you?
CB: Beet juice, molasses, pickle brine for de-icing our roads? Why???
BM: So, there are some pretty strange materials people have been experimenting with across the county. Well, why are people doing that? There’s a concern with the use of chloride materials in de-icing agents – chloride is bad for the environment, and when it gets into our surface and groundwater, it’s an environmental concern, so we want to try to reduce the use of chlorides as much as possible in de-icing materials.
CB: Any final thou-
BM: I want to say one more thing about that, whether you use it or not.
CB: Yes! Go for it!
BM: The other thing agencies are doing is to try to manage and educate the public on the amount of salt that’s being used on private sites, and agencies themselves are trying to minimize the amount of salt usage.
CB: Any final thoughts on winter roads as an engineer?
BM: I don’t know, some of this is nerd stuff, but I always find it interesting when I go to warm weather climates and look at the way that they design their streets, you’ll see a lot of vertical curb returns around medians and things that just won’t work with snow plowing. We have to design plowable tapered medians so the snowplow can ride up on it and there’s a lot of different infrastructure out there in non-snowy climates that we just can’t do here because it doesn’t work for snow plowing maintenance.
BM: *laughs* I would suck at being an actor.
BM: I’m Brian Malm… thanks for watching.
*Takes a drink of coffee*
BM: Let me do it one more time.