Gridlock in LA

This way to better roads

faculty and students of the CSU are building, repairing and
reinventing california's streets and highways.


The 5. The 99. The 101. The 15. California is almost as well-known for its highways as its movie studios, Silicon Valley tech firms and beaches. With nearly 400,000 miles of road, California has the second-most of any U.S. state.

As an early adopter of freeways in the 1940s, innovative infrastructure was a source of pride for the Golden State. Over 70 years later, our aging transportation has been tested—by the double whammy of an exploding population and extreme weather—and now lags behind most of the rest of the country. California currently ranks as the 42nd-worst U.S. state for road conditions.

More than 50 percent of the state's roads and highways are considered to be in disrepair, and 89 percent of California's counties are affected by these poor roads. Streets with potholes, poor signage and markings, and crumbling pavement don't only make for an uncomfortable ride, though: Driving on them costs Californians a lot.


Amount each Californian pays due to poor roads, for a total of $61 billion Annually

$9.8 Billion

Annual cost of car accidents in California in which poor roads likely played a role


Help is on the way: Faculty and students at campuses across the California State University are finding solutions and researching ways to improve transportation infrastructure; discovering road materials that are longer-lasting and sustainable; and developing the skilled transportation workforce the state needs to keep our roads in good repair for decades to come.

Road Warriors of Research

It's hard to imagine a think tank that could have a greater impact on the average Californian than one focused on transportation.

That's exactly what the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San José State University does in leading the California State University Transportation Consortium (CSUTC).

While MTI also concentrates on national transportation issues, the consortium brings together the strengths of the CSU system to focus squarely on the state's significant transportation issues.

The campus organizations that make up the CSUTC—San José State's MTI, the California Pavement Preservation Center (CP2C) at California State University, Chico; the Fresno State Transportation Institute; and the Center for International Trade and Transportation/College of Engineering at California State University, Long Beach—collaborate on a wide range of potential solutions for the state's infrastructure, traffic and other transportation challenges.

The CSUTC acts as a steward of state funds, engaging researchers from across the CSU in an objective selection process, and is currently managing 26 research projects at 10 campuses. Any individual faculty researcher at any campus has the opportunity to apply for funding, too.

"The CSUTC's focus on providing access to equitable, affordable and sustainable transportation through the highest-quality research helps advance transportation policy and generate solutions that truly improve the mobility of people and goods in California," says Karen Philbrick, Ph.D., director of the MTI.

What is the CSU Transportation consortium working on?

Here are just three highlights of many research projects in progress:

For professionals

NEW ROAD Materials

A team at CSU Bakersfield will develop novel asphalt-paving materials with ingredients such as ground tire rubber particles, as well as new design approaches for roads and bridges.             

See CSUB's Work

Green Up!

Researchers at Cal Poly Pomona are creating a tool to help designers choose the method of road repair that best meets the needs of the job, while reducing environmental impact.             

Read About CPP's tool
For the community

recycled roads

Faculty at Fresno State are researching sustainable methods to make new asphalt paving materials using recycled, crushed concrete for the aggregate.             

Learn about fresno's research

Facing a backlog of $130 billion in needed repairs and improvements, in April 2017 the California legislature passed Senate Bill 1 (SB1), the Road Repair and Accountability Act. The law raises revenues for transportation by increasing gasoline and diesel taxes and vehicle registration fees.  

greener, stron​ger, better
California pavement Preservation Center, Chico State University

What do drivers like most in a road? According to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), it's a smooth ride. Potholes, rough road, debrisall can impair safety, comfort and fuel efficiency.

Research at the California Pavement Preservation Center (CP2C) at Chico State is focused on finding ways to preserve existing roadways so they'll last longer and not need to undergo costly major repairs. One possible solution: using recycled tires as a sustainable material in roads.

More than 40 million tires are generated in California each year.
We can greatly reduce the number sent to landfills by using recycled tire rubber in our roads.

Dr. DingXin Cheng,
Director, California Pavement Preservation Center

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) contracted with CP2C to study the performance and cost benefits of paving streets with Rubberized Asphalt Concrete (RAC), which is made by blending ground tire rubber with an asphalt binder. The mixture is then mixed with conventional aggregate materials like gravel to create a new road surface.

The method is cost-effective because it is possible to be paved in thinner layers (so less material is needed) and lasts longer than traditional materials. It's also more skid-resistant and helps reduce road noise.

"Over 40 million [used] tires per year are generated in California, and some of them may be sent to landfills, but RAC greatly reduces that number," says Professor DingXin Cheng, Ph.D., CP2C's director. "It's also a better binding material; regular asphalt can crack due to extreme temperatures and high traffic, but RAC enhances the road, increasing both the binder's elasticity and stiffness."

Dr. Cheng and his students make all their research findings and training materials available to industry professionals and government agencies at no cost, aligning with one of CP2C's goals: advocating for more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective pavement preservation strategies.

Undergraduate research assistants at Chico State's California Pavement Preservation Center gain real-world field experience on Caltrans projects.

In the lab, research assistants learn about the adhesion properties of rubberized asphalt from California Pavement Preservation Center Director Dr. DingXin Cheng.

Joint Training & Certification Program: CSU Long Beach + San José State with Caltrans

The need for a skilled workforce in road engineering and construction continues to grow with California's population. To ensure that this workforce is building highways that will stand the test of time and weather, Caltrans established the Joint Training and Certification Program (JTCP) in partnership with CSU Long Beach and San José State, using training materials developed by CSULB's College of Engineering, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and the University of Nevada, Reno.

The program provides compulsory training for technicians who sample or test road materials on any Caltrans project, as well as other industry professionals. Since its inaugural classes in February 2018, the JTCP has certified nearly 800 Caltrans and industry personnel and continues to administer the three-day classes at CSULB and SJSU.

"Industry professionals have been looking forward to establishing a program like this for more than 20 years," says Shadi Saadeh, Ph.D., program manager for the JTCP and director for the National Center for Transportation, Green Technology, and Education (TransGET) at CSULB. Skilled technicians are key to building roads that will meet the highest standards for quality, durability and safety, adds Dr. Saadeh.

So what are they testing for, exactly? In order for California's highways to stand up to wear and tear, they must be made with materials that meet industry standards, from the sands, soils and gravels (known as aggregates) to the asphalt and cement binders used in paving.

Technicians perform a variety of tests to determine the strength and moisture levels of the aggregate, whether the asphalt is binding the way it's supposed to, and the density of the paving and how it behaves at different temperatures. Correctly made roads with the right materials not only save the state money on future repairs, they prevent drivers from road condition-related accidents.

During a road construction project, both the contractor and Caltrans may test the same materials. If they come up with different results, Caltrans can stop work and more tests can be conducted. These steps can add further delay to a project and escalate costs, says Russell Snyder, executive director for the California Asphalt Pavement Association (CalAPA), a nonprofit trade association representing the asphalt pavement industry.

The JTCP seeks to reduce these types of conflicts by training Caltrans and private industry personnel together to establish consistent testing methods across California. More efficient and high-quality road construction ultimately benefits taxpayers, of course.

"The JTCP is a perfect example of a successful public-private collaboration," says Snyder. "It was a natural fit for Caltrans and the construction industry to leverage the expertise of the CSU to develop an educational program that ensures all technicians are competent and consistent, which is essential to helping maintain a modern transportation system in the most efficient and effective manner possible."

A Joint Training and Certification Program instructor at CSU Long Beach demonstrates how to properly measure a soil sample for testing.

Aggregates are mineral materials such as sand, gravel and crushed stone that, along with a binding material, form pavement like asphalt or concrete. Coarse aggregate, shown here, helps to strengthen the pavement, while fine aggregate particles are used to fill voids within the pavement.

JTCP technicians use a riffle splitter to divide aggregate into two equal sample sizes. Consistent measurement methods help to ensure correct test results for road materials.

JTCP trainees learn how to perform specific gravity tests on asphalt pavement core samples from actual roads to determine how porous the material is. An optimum level of density needs to be achieved to prevent distresses including rutting and cracking.


The CSU offers many degree programs that can lead to a career supporting the state's transportation infrastructure, including civil engineering, construction management and urban planning.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the future is bright if you’re looking for a job in construction management in California. In 2016, there were about 53,000 people in the field; that’s expected to grow to 62,600 by 2026—an increase of 18 percent and significantly faster than the predicted growth for construction managers across the U.S. as a whole.


This article is the second in a series on California's transportation problems and the ways in which the campuses of the California State University are working to solve them. Please read our previous coverage on the CSU's role in finding solutions to California's gridlock, and check back for future articles on finding new and better sources of fuel and improving the logistics of the air and sea transportation that serves not just California but the planet.

Story: Alisia Ruble


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