History of Asphalt Pavement in the UK

Did you know that what appears to be a wholly modern invention, road surface pavement, can actually be traced back to the time of the Romans? Road surfaces are nothing new, although they look a lot different today to how they did in the past.

Roman Road Surfaces and Pavements

The Romans were the first to build a network of roads that at its height numbered around 62,000 miles of road surface. The roads were public but their maintenance was the responsibility of the district the route passed through. Asphalt was not used in the construction of roads, but lime grout was popular. Liquid asphalt cement was first used by the Sumerians in 3,000 BC and the Incas also used something similar to asphalt when they were putting together their own highways.

Road Surfaces in the UK

Roads first came to be surfaced in the UK in the late 1700s. Thomas Telford made roads using aggregate, unbound, for horses and carts to move on. John McAdam in the 1800s developed a system of sloping surfaces to encourage better drainage from the surfaced roads. He used multiple layers of aggregate but no binder was used in the process of the construction. The first pavement with a binder was laid in Nottingham in 1848 – the pavement used coal tar for the binder. Asphalt paving was first used on footpaths during the 1830s in the UK, and then was used for roads in the 1850s. In the United States, asphalt roads were first developed in the 1870s.

Bicycles and Cars on the Early Roads

May car drivers assume that roads were built primarily for them. But you may be surprised to learn that smooth asphalt surfaces came about as a result of cycling organisations, who helped raise awareness and funds. In the 1840s, when the rail transport network was in full swing, many roads fell into disuse. Cyclists were the first group to lobby for improvements.

Hot Mix Asphalt Pavement

Asphalt is a dark brown or black hydrocarbon that occurs from the petroleum distillation process. Asphalt cement is asphalt that has been modified for use in hot mix asphalt. The hot mix asphalt pavement was popular in the US from the beginning of the 20th century. Frederick J. Warren invented a hot mix material and process that is closely linked to the formula used today. Hot mix asphalt consists of 95 percent aggregates and around 5 percent binder. The aggregates are sized to meet certain gradation specifications and this determines the property of the asphalt.

Asphalt Roads in the UK Today

Today the UK benefits from an extensive network of asphalt paved roads that connects practically all points of the country. Nowadays, the emphasis is on the development of sustainable roads and roads designed for cars as well as cyclists – pedestrian areas are also increasingly important in modern cities and modern asphalt pavements help to create safe, sustainable spaces for work and leisure.




Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Posted on 22 Jun 2015 in News

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