Environmentality: Why we should invest in self-healing roads


Claire Barnett

Photo by Claire Barnett // Vanderbilt Hustler

Kailey Newcome

When I left Minnesota for Vanderbilt, I thought I would escape the constant potholes and construction that came with fixing them. Boy, was I wrong. I soon realized on my trip to the airport for fall break that Nashville’s construction might even be worse than what I experienced at home (which is saying a lot). During my seemingly endless airport endeavor, I pondered ways to fix this driving annoyance. I thought ‘what if the roads could fix themselves so that we wouldn’t have to?’

Turns out they might be able to. Self-healing roads are streets constructed of asphalt mixed with tiny conductive steel fibers. When a large magnet runs over them, the energy heats the asphalt enough to melt it and smooth over any cracks in the surface. When the magnet is removed, the asphalt dries as if there had been no rift in the first place.

These roads have been successfully implemented in the Netherlands as far back as 2010. All are still in perfect condition and are projected to outlast typical road constructions by seven to ten years. Since these roadways only need the magnet run over them about once every four years, the Netherlands expects to save 90 million euros a year on road construction projects. So, even though self-healing roads are a bit pricier (a 25% increase compared to normal asphalt), they end up saving money in the long run.

Self-healing asphalt could easily benefit Vanderbilt’s campus as well. I don’t know how many times a day I trip on the cracked and uneven sidewalks, but I assure you, it’s a lot. If Vanderbilt replaced these dilapidated footpaths with self-healing roadways, they would be less likely to inconvenience or hurt any students or faculty. Also, Vanderbilt wouldn’t have to disrupt the flow of traffic to fix the sidewalks, either. It’s a win-win situation.

Road construction is a huge inconvenience to every driver. Self-healing asphalt offers a solution to this commonplace annoyance. With its improvements in durability, longevity and economical benefits, self-healing roads are a worthwhile investment that will hopefully soon spread throughout the state and country. Now if only I could self-heal my chem grade.