Jim Killian, 334/844-4218


AUBURN -- Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., on Monday will help officially dedicated the Auburn University-based National Center for Asphalt Technology's unique new $7 million test track and office complex.

The dedication ceremony will begin with an 11:30 a.m., luncheon at the AU Hotel and Dixon Conference Center. Tours of the track will run from 7:30 a.m.- 11 a.m., and again from 2 p.m.-4:30 p.m.

The 1.7-mile asphalt test track, built in partnership with the Alabama Department of Transportation, is located near Spring Villa in Opelika, about 15 miles east of the Auburn campus.

"This is going to be a big day for us, a new beginning," says Ray Brown, an AU civil engineering professor who is director of NCAT. "As the only facility of its kind in this country, the test track and center will bring positive national and international recognition to Auburn University. We're very excited about that, and very excited about the future.

"What amazes people who visit the test track is that it looks just like a full-scale NASCAR track. The only things missing are high speeds -- the track is designed to accommodate special tractor-trailer semis running at 45 mph -- and, of course, grandstands."

The administrative offices, research laboratories and teaching facilities -- funded through the National Asphalt Pavement Association -- are in the Auburn Technology Park, just beyond Interstate 85 exit 51 on U.S. 29, three miles south of the campus.

Joining Siegelman and Sessions for the dedication ceremony will be Alabama Republican congressmen Bob Riley and Spencer Bachus. Representatives from the National Asphalt Pavement Association and Alabama Department of Transportation will also attend.

They will join university administrators and AU Board of Trustees members, as well as transportation officials from throughout the nation. In all, about 500 guests are expected to attend.

The ceremonies will "recognize efforts of the many individuals and businesses who took a personal interest in developing state-of-the-art facilities to support asphalt research," says Brown.

"Our new office complex at the Auburn Technology Park represents more than an administrative center," he says. "We have research labs that are used for design and analysis and teaching labs that are used for outreach education. We also have a conference-style classroom, a library and resource center, and room for more than a dozen graduate students."

The center's classrooms and teaching laboratories will be used to train plant and lab technicians working for departments of transportation, contractors, industry suppliers, engineers and students.

They will also be used to "teach the teachers" through a Professor Training Course that has already sent more than 200 faculty back to campuses nationwide with the information needed to teach asphalt technology to their own classes.

NCAT instructors teach more than 40 short courses annually, both on and off campus, Brown notes.

The test track, whose primary sponsor, the Alabama Department of Transportation, will be recognized at the noon ceremonies Monday, represents one aspect of the dedication events; NCAT's new national offices represent another aspect, equally important, Brown adds.

The 40,000-square-foot office complex is the realization of a $10 million endowment by the National Asphalt Pavement Association's Research and Education Foundation, many of whose members will be at Monday's ceremonies.

The track facilities will enable NCAT researchers to develop and improve techniques for solving major design and construction problems.

"This will allow us to greatly accelerate research into asphalt mixes that will last longer and provide greater safety, and ultimately save hundreds of millions of tax dollars," Brown said. "For example, improved pavement surfaces will improve traction and smoothness while reducing noise."

The track surface is constructed of 46 200-foot test sections of asphalt and is fully instrumented to monitor temperature and humidity.

The transportation departments of nine states -- ranging from the Southeast out to Oklahoma and Indiana -- are sponsoring track sections composed of their own locally available aggregates and asphalt binders, which they shipped to the track.

The materials were then mixed and laid to the specifications of supervising highway engineers from the participating states.

Semis pulling three trailers with 20,000 pounds calibrated over each axle (for a total weight of 152,000 pounds for each rig) run over the test sections 16 hours a day, six days a week, allowing engineers to produce wear patterns in just two years that will simulate 15-20 years of traffic on a fairly high-volume interstate highway.

Following the two-year test schedule, old sections will be milled off and new test sections will be laid on the track.

NCAT's research component is already widely respected among the nation's asphalt industry. Projects have been conducted with a dozen state departments of transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.

Probably the most well-known accomplishment by NCAT researchers has been the development of an environmentally-friendly asphalt content tester that has greatly reduced or eliminated the use of solvents. The device is now in use in virtually every state, and internationally as well.

"We think that the real payoff in the kind of attention we get will be in the future, when safer, more cost-effective highways are built using some of the technologies developed here on the NCAT test track," Brown added.

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CONTACT: Brown, 334/844- 6244.