A road is an identifiable route, way or path between two or more places. Roads are typically smoothed, paved, or otherwise prepared to allow easy travel; though they need not be, and historically many roads were simply recognizable routes without any formal construction or maintenance.
The term was also commonly used to refer to roadsteads, waterways that lent themselves to use by shipping. Notable examples being Hampton Roads, in Virginia, and Castle Roads, in Bermuda (also formerly in Virginia).
In urban areas roads may pass through a city or village and be named as streets, serving a dual function as urban space easement and route. Economics and society depend heavily on efficient roads. In the European Union (EU) 44% of all goods are moved by trucks over roads and 85% of all persons are transported by cars, buses or coaches on roads.
The United States has the largest network of roadways of any country with 6,430,366 km (2005). India has the second largest road system in the world with 3,383,344 km (2002). People's Republic of China is third with 1,870,661 km of roadway (2004). When looking only at expressways the National Trunk Highway System (NTHS) in People's Republic of China has a total length of 45,000 km at the end of 2006, second only to the United States with 90,000 km in 2005.
That the first pathways were the trails made by animals has not been universally accepted, arguing that animals do not follow constant paths. Others believe that some roads originated from humans following animal trails. The Icknield Way is given as an example of this type road origination, where man and animal both selected the same natural line. By about 10,000 BC, rough pathways were used by human travelers.
Transport economics is a branch of economics that deals with the allocation of resources within the transport sector and has strong linkages with civil engineering. Transport economics differs from some other branches of economics in that the assumption of a spaceless, instantaneous economy does not hold. People and goods flow over networks at certain speeds. Demands peak. Advanced ticket purchase is often induced by lower fares. The networks themselves may or may not be competitive. A single trip (the final good from the point-of-view of the consumer) may require bundling the services provided by several firms, agencies and modes.
Although transport systems follow the same supply and demand theory as other industries, the complications of network effects and choices between non-similar goods (e.g. car and bus travel) make estimating the demand for transportation facilities difficult. The development of models to estimate the likely choices between the non-similar goods involved in transport decisions "discrete choice" models led to the development of the important branch of econometrics, and a Nobel Prize for Daniel McFadden.
In transport, demand can be measured in numbers of journeys made or in total distance traveled across all journeys (e.g. passenger-kilometres for public transport or vehicle-kilometres of travel (VKT) for private transport). Supply is considered to be a measure of capacity. The price of the good (travel) is measured using the generalised cost of travel, which includes both money and time expenditure. The effect of increases in supply (capacity) are of particular interest in transport economics (see induced demand), as the potential environmental consequences are significant.
Road building and maintenance is an area of economic activity that remains dominated by the public sector (though often through private contractors). Roads (except those on private property that are not accessible to the general public) are typically paid for by taxes (often raised through levies on fuel), though some public roads, especially highways are funded by tolls.
Motor vehicle traffic on roads generate noise pollution especially at higher operating speeds. Therefore, considerable noise health effects are expected from road systems used by large numbers of motor vehicles. Noise mitigation strategies exist to reduce sound levels at nearby sensitive receptors. The idea that road design could be influenced by acoustical engineering considerations first arose about 1973.
Motor vehicles operating on roads contribute emissions, particularly for congested city street conditions and other low speed circumstances. Concentrations of air pollutants and adverse respiratory health effects are greater near the road than at some distance away from the road. Road dust dust kicked up by vehicles may cause allergies.
Traffic flows on the right or on the left side of the road depending on the country. In countries where traffic flows on the right, traffic signs are mostly on the right side of the road, roundabouts and traffic circles go counter-clockwise, and pedestrians crossing a two-way road should watch out for traffic from the left first. In countries where traffic flows on the left, the reverse is true.
About 34% of the world by population drive on the left, and 66% keep right. By roadway distances, about 28% drive on the left, and 72% on the right, even though originally most traffic drove on the left worldwide.
Road construction requires the creation of a continuous right-of-way, overcoming geographic obstacles and having grades low enough to permit vehicle or foot travel. (pg15) and may be required to meet standards set by law or official guidelines. The process is often begun with the removal of earth and rock by digging or blasting, construction of embankments, bridges and tunnels, and removal of vegetation (this may involve deforestation) and followed by the laying of pavement material. A variety of road building equipment is employed in road building.
After design, approval, planning, legal and environmental considerations have been addressed alignment of the road is set out by a surveyor. The Radii and gradient are designed and staked out to best suit the natural ground levels and minimize the amount of cut and fill. (page34) Great care is taken to preserve reference Benchmarks (page59)
Roadways are designed and built for primary use by vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Storm drainage and environmental considerations are a major concern. Erosion and sediment controls are constructed to prevent detrimental effects. Drainage lines are laid with sealed joints in the road easement with runoff coefficients and characteristics adequate for the land zoning and storm water system. Drainage systems must be capable of carrying the ultimate design flow from the upstream catchment with approval for the outfall from the appropriate authority to a watercourse, creek, river or the sea for drainage discharge. (page38 to 40)
A Borrow pit (source for obtaining fill, gravel, and rock) and a water source should be located near or in reasonable distance to the road construction site. Approval from local authorities may be required to draw water or for working (crushing and screening) of materials for construction needs. The top soil and vegetation is removed from the borrow pit and stockpiled for subsequent rehabilitation of the extraction area. Side slopes in the excavation area not steeper than one vertical to two horizontal for safety reasons. (page 53 to 56 )
Old road surfaces, fences, and buildings may need to be removed before construction can begin. Trees in the road construction area may be marked for retention. These protected trees should not have the topsoil within the area of the tree's drip line removed and the area should be kept clear of construction material and equipment. Compensation or replacement may be required if a protected tree is damaged. Much of the vegetation may be mulched and put aside for use during reinstatement. The topsoil is usually stripped and stockpiled nearby for rehabilitation of newly constructed embankments along the road. Stumps and roots are removed and holes filled as required before the earthwork begins. Final rehabilitation after road construction is completed will include seeding, planting, watering and other activities to reinstate the area to be consistent with the untouched surrounding areas. (page 66 to 67 )
Processes during earthwork include excavation, removal of material to spoil, filling, compacting, construction and trimming. If rock or other unsuitable material is discovered it is removed, moisture content is managed and replaced with standard fill compacted to 90% relative compaction. Generally blasting of rock is discouraged in the road bed. When a depression must be filled to come up to the road grade the native bed is compacted after the topsoil has been removed. The fill is made by the "compacted layer method" where a layer of fill is spread then compacted to specifications, the process is repeated until the desired grade is reached. (page 68 to 69 )
General fill material should be free of organics, meet minimum California bearing ratio (CBR) results and have a low plasticity index. Select fill (sieved) should be composed of gravel, decomposed rock or broken rock below a specified Particle size and be free of large lumps of clay. Sand clay fill may also be used. The road bed must be "proof rolled" after each layer of fill is compacted. If a roller passes over an area without creating visible deformation or spring the section is deemed to comply. (page 70 to 72 )
The completed road way is finished by paving or left with a gravel or other natural surface. The type of road surface is dependent on economic factors and expected usage. Safety improvements like Traffic signs, Crash barriers, Raised pavement markers, and other forms of Road surface marking are installed.
Like all structures, roads deteriorate over time. Deterioration is primarily due to accumulated damage from vehicles, however environmental effects such as frost heaves, thermal cracking and oxidation often contribute. According to a series of experiments carried out in the late 1950s, called the AASHO Road Test, it was empirically determined that the effective damage done to the road is roughly proportional to the 4th power of axle weight . A typical tractor-trailer weighing 80,000 pounds (36.287 t) with 8,000 pounds (3.6287 t) on the steer axle and 36,000 pounds (16.329 t) on both of the tandem axle groups is expected to do 7,800 times more damage than a passenger vehicle with 2,000 pounds (0.907 t) on each axle. Potholes on roads are caused by rain damage and vehicle braking or related construction works.
Pavements are designed for an expected service life or design life. In some UK countries the standard design life is 40 years for new bitumen and concrete pavement. Maintenance is considered in the whole life cost of the road with service at 10, 20 and 30 year milestones. Roads can be and are designed for a variety of lives (8-, 15-, 30-, and 60-year designs). When pavement lasts longer then its intended life, it may have been overbuilt, and the original costs may have been too high. When a pavement fails before its intended design life, the owner may have excessive repair and rehabilitation costs. Many concrete pavements built since the 1950s have significantly outlived their intended design lives. Some roads like Chicago, Illinois's "Wacker Drive", a major two-level viaduct in downtown area are being rebuilt with a designed service life of 100 years.
Virtually all roads require some form of maintenance before they come to the end of their service life. Pro-active agencies continually monitor road conditions and apply preventive maintenance treatments as needed to prolong the lifespan of their roads. Technically advanced agencies monitior the road network surface condition with sophisticated equipment such as laser/inertial Profilometers. These measurements include road curvature, cross slope, unevenness, roughness, rutting and texture (roads). This data is fed into a pavement management system, which recommends the best maintenance or construction treatment to correct the damage that has occurred.
Maintenance treatments for asphalt concrete generally include crack sealing, surface rejuvenating, fog sealing, micro-milling and surface treatments. Thin surfacing preserves, protects and improves the functional condition of the road while reducing the need for routing maintenance, leading to extended service life without increasing structural capacity.