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“Watering” Mopac: UT Austin College of Engineering research on highway runoff wins award

Austin motorists may recall an odd sight along Mopac Boulevard in 1995 when researchers at The University of Texas at Austin College of Engineering appeared to be “watering” the roadway instead of the grass. Their rainfall simulation study actually represented crucial research on highway runoff, and it has been honored by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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AUSTIN, Texas—Austin motorists may recall an odd sight along Mopac Boulevard in 1995 when researchers at The University of Texas at Austin College of Engineering appeared to be “watering” the roadway instead of the grass. Their rainfall simulation study actually represented crucial research on highway runoff, and it has been honored by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Dr. Joseph F. Malina Jr., who holds the C.W. Cook Professorship in Environmental Engineering; Dr. Randall Charbeneau, associate dean for research with UT Austin’s College of Engineering; Dr. Michael Barrett, associate director of UT Austin’s Center for Research in Water Resources; and Dr. Lynton Irish, president of Irish Environmental Group, have been awarded the 2000 Arthur M. Wellington Prize. The prize was presented at the ASCE’s 2000 Annual Convention in Seattle this month for their paper “Use of Regression for Analyzing Highway Storm-Water Loads.”

The groundbreaking research involved measuring the quantity of pollutants that washed off major or high-speed roadways during simulated rainstorms. The group created a 1,000-foot rain simulator, which they used 35 times over the course of a year to shower Mopac and monitor pollutant concentrations in the resulting highway runoff.

The researchers found that many pollutants are washed off the surface of the road, but they also found that many others are washed off the undersides of vehicles. Surprisingly, atmospheric deposition also accounts for a significant portion of the substances identified in highway runoff.

Given known factors, such as the number of cars using the highway or the amount of rainfall, the research allowed the engineers to create a computer model that can predict the amount and type of pollutants that will occur in the runoff.

The findings have become the international standard for highway runoff design, allowing engineers designing new highways, or renovating old ones, to determine the type and size of control devices needed to capture and treat the runoff.

Malina, project director, and Barrett currently are developing a database to provide design parameters for best management practices for runoff control and reduction of surface water pollution.

Malina has served on the College of Engineering faculty since 1961, after earning his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He has been a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers since 1955 when he was a student at Manhattan College earning his bachelor’s degree.

In 39 years of teaching, conducting research, designing and serving as a consultant at UT Austin, Malina has supervised more than 130 masters and doctoral students in various aspects of environmental engineering including biological wastewater treatment of wastewater and sludge, and solid waste engineering. Malina is a professor of civil engineering.

Randall Charbeneau served as director of the Center for Research in Water Resources at the time the research was conducted. Charbeneau’s research interests include storm water quantity and quality management, and groundwater pollution and remediation. He holds the Pearlie Dashiell Henderson Centennial Fellowship in Engineering and has served on the College of Engineering faculty since 1979.

Barrett, a research engineer, assisted with the rain simulation project while working on his doctorate at UT Austin, and is currently working on similar projects for the California Department of Transportation. Barrett joined the College of Engineering in 1992. Barrett’s research interests are focused on urban storm water management.

Irish received his doctorate from UT Austin in 1995 and based his dissertation on the research done with the rain simulator. Currently, he is president and founder of Irish Environmental Group, based in Shreveport, Louisiana. This environmental engineering firm designs water and wastewater treatment facilities for both municipal and industrial clients. He also is president of a private utility company that operates water and sewage systems in Louisiana.

Since 1921, the American Society of Civil Engineers has awarded the Arthur M. Wellington Prize, endowed by the Engineering News-Record. The society, founded in 1852, ensures the advancement in safer buildings, water systems and other civil engineering works by developing technical codes and standards, often adopted in government regulations. Representing more than 123,000 civil engineers worldwide, the society is America’s oldest national engineering society.

For more information, contact Becky Rische at the College of Engineering at (512) 471-7272. For photos, see www.ce.utexas.edu/org/crwr/projects/monitoring.html