When someone says “climate change,” the images that pop into your head probably include rising sea levels or melting glaciers, but one that probably doesn’t phase you is melting roadways. In a recent study by Arizona State University, researchers found that today’s roadways aren’t equipped to deal with a warmer climate.

Asphalt is a temperature-sensitive material, which means it can crack if it gets too cold and melt if it gets too hot. This is incredibly important because while roadways are often designed for functionality, efficiency, and safety, they’re not often designed for temperature fluctuation. Dr. Shane Underwood, the leader of the study, says that construction materials are often chosen with the assumption of a stationary climate. This means if temperatures continue to climb, it could mean bad news for roadways.

In the ASU study, researchers looked at the asphalt used to build 800 roads around the country, then compared those asphalt types to the recent temperatures in the corresponding areas. It turns out that when most of these roadways were constructed, they were based on temperature data between 1964 and 1995; researchers found that 35 perfect of the roads were built using inappropriate materials (mainly, asphalt that was designed to withstand cold temperatures, but not hot ones).

Our asphalt paving company knows that this could mean bad news for roadways if temperatures continue to increase.

“Anthropogenic climate change may therefore result in rapid infrastructure failure and, consequently, increased maintenance costs, particularly for paved roads where temperature is a key determinant for material selection,” says Underwood.

The study estimated that in 2010, this inaccuracy cost between $13 and $14 billion in unnecessary maintenance expenses. After running a set of climate models, maintenance costs could rise to $22 billion or $35 billion by 2070 (depending on if emissions are controlled or not).

Temperatures are predicted to keep rising in the future, which means we may see major problems with today’s road infrastructures.

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