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Civil and Environmental Engineering

Travis Gordon, Teresa Adams, and Laura Franke

From left: Travis Gordon, assistant project director for the upper Midwest freight corridor study, Professor Teresa Adams, and graduate student Laura Franke stand at the Port of Milwaukee, one of the largest freight hubs in the upper Midwest. (14K JPG)

U.S. freight infrastructure: Can it handle increased loads?

The United States' freight corridors move more than 15 billion tons of goods worth nearly $10 trillion. By the year 2020, the system is expected to see an increase to 23 billion tons of goods worth $30 trillion.

Civil and environmental engineering researchers want to know whether our freight infrastructure can handle that load. They will lead a multi-state study on freight transportation in the Upper Midwest to assess the ability of transportation systems to accommodate increased freight traffic in the coming years. The study will focus on corridors and transportation systems stretching from Minnesota to Ohio, and includes the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario. The study will assess not only roads and highways, but also rail corridors, airports, and lake and river ports.

Professor Teresa Adams will lead the study, along with the Midwest Regional University Transportation Center (MRUTC), based in the College of Engineering. Adams serves as associate director of the center.

The study is part of a broader assessment currently under way nationally about freight transportation and the ability of transportation systems to handle anticipated increases in freight traffic. Similar studies are in process for freight transportation in Southern and Western states, with the heavily trafficked Eastern seaboard. In assessing freight corridors throughout the upper Midwest, the study will look at issues including performance measures for freight transportation systems, best practices of multi-jurisdictional freight-planning efforts, and regulatory constraints on shipping and transporting goods.

Greening golf courses with old tires

As mountains of scrap tires continue to rise above the landscape, civil and environmental engineering researchers have found an environmentally friendly use for them: grind them up and place the rubber bits beneath golf course greens. Researchers have shown that these ground tires can absorb excess chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides, preventing them from leaching into groundwater and contaminating the surrounding environment. Golf courses are designed to improve playability, not environmental impact, says Professor Jae (Jim) Park, an avid golfer with a six handicap. But Park is also aware of the unintentional side effects of the fertilizers and pesticides applied to the golf-course greens to keep them looking green. These products contain chemicals that trickle into groundwater sources and contaminate the surrounding environment. Used tires could provide a barrier, according to the research.

Park has been studying the characteristics of tires for the last 12 years. In that time, he and his colleagues have shown that tire chips — ground-up pieces of this rubber material — can absorb harmful organic compounds from the environment. The findings, he says, suggest that they could be used as landfill barriers to prevent the leaching of pollutants into the ground.

Tire chips' ability to block these pollutants led Park, civil and environmental engineering graduate student Bob Lisi, and Horticulture Professor John Stier to consider placing ground-up rubber beneath chemically treated greens. In the latest study, he and his team found that tire chips can absorb nitrate — one of the main chemicals in fertilizers.

Can prions survive wastewater treatment methods?

Assistant Professor Katherine (Trina) McMahon and Professor Craig Benson will examine the ability of prions to withstand the processes used to treat wastewater. The team will join UW-Madison scientists Judd Aiken and Joel Pedersen, who are currently investigating the fate of prion proteins in soil and landfills.

At most treatment plants, microorganisms decompose biodegradable material in the sewage and, in theory, should also disintegrate infectious proteins, says McMahon. But as she points out, prion proteins — the chief culprit in the development of mad cow disease — generally are very resistant to degradation.

During the one-year project, McMahon and her co-investigators will focus on several questions, including what percentage of these proteins would be degraded during treatment and what percentage would be released back into the environment in treated water. If prions are released, the researchers will determine if the proteins remain infectious.

McMahon says answers to these questions will be of particular interest to the engineers of treatment plants receiving water from slaughterhouses or rendering facilities, as well as septic tank owners who dress deer and potentially wash infected tissue down the drain.

In addition, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials want to find out whether prions should be excluded from waste streams entering wastewater treatment plants, McMahon says.


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Copyright 2004 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
Date last modified: 17-Feb-2005
Date created: 17-Feb-2005