May 2007

Safer roads in Alberta

Alberta’s highways may be a little safer now, thanks to University of Calgary research that resulted in changes to provincial trucking laws that limit traffic on highways, due to concerns pavement is being damaged by heavy trucks.

The Alberta Road Research Initiative (ARRI) was a five-year study led by Lynne Cowe Falls, a civil engineering professor in the Schulich School of Engineering. A specialist in road design and pavement performance, Cowe Falls is using a 300-metre test road in Leduc County’s Nisku Industrial Park, south of Edmonton, to study how mobile cranes and other heavily loaded vehicles affect the pavement of highways under a variety of loads, vehicle speeds, and weather conditions.

Such loads are particularly linked to the northern Alberta oil sands projects. The ARRI began after Syncrude Canada Ltd. took part in an initial three-month experiment in which the company was permitted to use Highway 63 north of Fort McMurray without the extra trailers and dollies normally required for vehicles weighing upwards of 100-tonnes. The initiative is a public-private partnership involving the University of Calgary, Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation, Syncrude, Leduc County, Liebherr, Grove/Manitowac, Spierings, and the Canadian Oilwell Drilling Contractors.

Preliminary results show that lengthening loads by using dollies does little to reduce strain on the roads in winter, prompting the government to relax its regulations requiring mobile cranes to use dollies on February 1 this year. The change improves safety on roads that are used to transport cranes to and from job sites, while reducing the costs associated with moving the cranes.

The study is also examining how heavy vehicle traffic impacts roads in the spring, when they are most vulnerable to excessive weight, and in the summer after they have stabilized from the spring thaws.

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