AUSTIN (KXAN) - Usually this time of year drivers start to see the arch-nemesis of a car's alignment start to appear on the road. Now there is laser technology that scans the roads and gives the city a clear picture of just what's going on under drivers' wheels.
Austin's Fugro Geotechnical engineering staff is driving across Austin in a "street surface assessment vehicle" looking for the holiest of surfaces.
They started roaming the roads in Late November, capturing images of cracks and looking for road condition patterns. They then ranked the roads from "most like Swiss cheese" to "solid as a rock."
"If you get a pothole, basically there's a camera sitting on the rear of the van that takes downward images where you can see potholes," said Reuben Williams, Fugro project manager.
This isn't Fugro's first trip to Austin. They were here about 13 years ago and were using similar technology even then. The difference is: The quality is better than it was in the 1990s.
"There's also a line-scan camera on the back of the van that takes millimeter scans of the road way. And those are continuous. So those go the entire surface of the roadway along the travel lane that's tested," Williams said.
The digital photo files are smaller so there is more room on a computer to store more pictures for years' worth of research.
They are also doing assessments in other Texas cites. Company officials said Austin has some of the best roads around "because we are 'ahead of the curve' when it comes to maintenance," according to Williams.
At a cost of about $75 per mile to assess all of Austin's 2,800 miles of roads, an official said this is more economical than buying the equipment themselves.
"These are very expensive pieces of equipment and it requires a fairly competent technical staff to run them, so it a big investment for us to take on full-time," said Ed Poppitt , City of Austin's pavement engineer.
The city staff fixes potholes on a regular basis, but they have to be practical in the upkeep, and that's where the data gathering like this comes in handy.
"The pavement management data is more long-term. It's the roughness of the road, and the overall condition of the road that helps us determines long-term strategies for repairing the roads," said Poppitt.
As long as we keep the freezing temperatures and copious moisture at bay, Austin roads will be on easy street.
Fugro Geotechnical staff will collect data from Austin's streets until February.
The City of Austin said if drivers see any particularly troublesome potholes, they are asked to call 3-1-1.
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