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We tend to take the road beneath our wheels for granted until we slam into a pothole on our morning commute.

The jolt could send a coffee cup flying or lead to hundreds of dollars in car repairs. A 2015 federal report found that 66 percent of New Jersey’s roads are in poor to mediocre condition and determined that those conditions cost drivers an average of $601 in annual repairs.

A new project slated to break ground next month at Rowan University will focus on building better roads.

Called the Center for Research and Education in Advanced Transportation Engineering Systems (CREATEs), the facility will test construction materials used in pavement for roadways and even airport runways.

This is the second construction project at Rowan’s South Jersey Technology Park, which opened in 2008.

The project is funded through a mix of grants and contracts with government and private industry

“We’ve received about $6 million in grants and contracts just in the past year alone to support this center,” said Anthony Lowman, dean of the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering. “It will allow us to do accelerated pavement testing on a large scale.”

The $1.7 million facility will include 20 separate test beds where different pavement surfaces can be placed and subjected to various stresses to determine their durability, Lowman explained. Sensors are embedded in each section to monitor performance.

The Mark IV also contains equipment that can raise and lower the temperature of the road surface to simulate summer and winter conditions, as well as adjust humidity levels.The machine that will simulate real-world driving conditions is called a Mark IV Heavy Vehicle Simulator. This giant $3.2 million vehicle can simulate 10 years of driving on a pavement section in just 30 days.

That function will come in handy for the site’s first contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will test pavement under arctic conditions, Lowman said.

Pavements tested at the site will include different asphalt mixes, cements, recycled products and new materials.

“We’ll be testing traditional pavement that people want to lay on current roads … We’ll be testing environmentally friendly mixes,” Lowman said.

Sensor data will help students and faculty understand what they cannot see from the outside. “They can monitor failure, forces, stresses,” he explained.

The simulator is placed over the section of pavement to be tested and wheels literally roll across the surface over and over to simulate the wear and tear of thousands of cars and trucks rumbling across it day after day, year after year.

This is the only facility of its kind in the Northeast.

In addition to contracts with the federal government, the site will test materials for agencies such as the state Department of Transportation and asphalt manufacturers.

Between 20 and 25 people will work at the facility, including Rowan faculty, undergrads and graduate students.

This facility is important for two reasons, Lowman said.

“Both the state and federal government are making huge investments in repairing our infrastructure … roadways being at the top of the list,” he said. “Our new facility is going to provide a test bed for these new materials so that we can have better, safer roads.”

In addition, this program is helping train the engineers who will design and maintain our infrastructure well into the future, Lowman noted.

He estimates that the facility will be up and running by September.

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