Letter from the Director

Roads of the Future

Randy West Headshot

As a child of the 1960s, one of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons was The Jetsons. George Jetson and his family of the future lived in an apartment building perched in the sky, had a robot maid and a talking dog, and drove a flying car that folded into a briefcase. The flying car was the thing that really fired up my imagination. In my teenage years, I devoured issues of Popular Mechanics magazines featuring such futuristic concepts. A recent Google search of “flying cars” revealed an amusing list of attempts dating back about 100 years as well as ongoing efforts of numerous enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and scamsters.

I’m glad that there are people out there still working on that dream, and I hope they can turn it into a feasible reality in my lifetime. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on roads. There are plenty of intriguing ideas to explore for the roads of the future. Fascinating concepts like roads that will charge electric vehicles as they travel at highway speeds, roads made of solar panels and roads made of plastic have captured a great deal of attention through social media. To be honest, I’m skeptical that some ideas will be economically feasible or able to hold up to the wear and tear of heavy traffic and extreme weather while providing good skid resistance.

At NCAT, we love doing research that pushes the envelope on sustainable pavements because these innovations consider environmental, economic and societal benefits. There are plenty of practical ideas for combining recycled materials, perpetual pavements and porous asphalt pavements that could be just as economical but last longer than the pavements of today. Although technology is advancing faster and faster, even if they get flying cars figured out, I’m betting it’ll be a bit longer to get flying trucks working, ensuring that pavements will be around for many more decades.

Randy C. West, Ph.D., P.E. | Director & Research Professor