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NMSU civil engineering students inspecting roads for NMDOT

Twelve students from New Mexico State University are hitting the pavement this summer - some 7,714 miles of it to be exact.

From left: Civil engineering students Judith Gallardo and Abel Garcia, along with civil engineering professor, Paola Bandini, demonstrate techniques for measuring road wear on Route 28 in Mesilla Park. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

The civil engineering students are visually examining a portion of every mile of pavement of state roads and highways in southern New Mexico. Their peers from the University of New Mexico (UNM) are covering the highways in the north.

Equipped with fluorescent vests and hats and using laptop computers, the students are recording cracks, tears, ruts, and other types of deterioration of the roads. The data they collect will be compiled into the state's annual report on the conditions of New Mexico highways.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) will use this information to determine if routine maintenance or rehabilitation is needed. It also will be used to develop deterioration models that can predict future pavement conditions.

The students stop at every mile marker and examine a tenth of a mile of pavement. They work 10 hours a day, four days a week until the 12-week summer job is done. They travel in teams of two, using rental cars and hotels to get the job done.

The students look for seven types of distresses in the pavement. They evaluate the severity and extent of the conditions on a scale of one to three. Experienced NMDOT staff trained them for this job.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation used to do the job annually, but because of construction projects under Gov. Bill Richardson's Investment Partnership, NMSU and UNM have been contracted to employ and supervise students to carry out this project.

"The DOT is putting a lot of trust in our judgment," said Abel Garcia, a senior civil engineering student who is specializing in structures. "My partner and I both have a background in construction and project management, so I feel like we are qualified for the work."

Garcia interned with the Texas Department of Transportation in Dallas last summer. He will graduate this coming December and already has been offered employment in Dallas.

His partner, Judith Gallardo, had a co-op position with the city of Las Cruces for the past year and a half, managing road construction projects. She is a senior in civil engineering, specializing in environmental engineering. After graduating next May, Gallardo plans to join the Peace Corps.

"This is an excellent opportunity for engineering students to gain perspectives in their field while also being employed on such a critical research project for our department," state Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught said. "This is also part of our continued commitment to partner with our educational institutions in engineering research and development to groom our future engineers."

Overseeing the students is Paola Bandini, assistant professor of civil engineering.

"This is important data for the state that will be used in pavement management," Bandini said. "It will be used to plan for reconstruction, rehabilitation and maintenance of the state roads. It has to be on schedule and it has to be accurate. We've selected some of our very best students to participate in this project. I'm very proud of them."

Four civil engineering graduate students also are part of the project. The students in the field pass their data on to the graduate students at the end of each week. The graduate students evaluate the quality of the data and compile it into software provided by the NMDOT.

"It's been a great learning experience and a lot of fun," Gallardo said. "I hope the program continues next year. I think that other students would benefit from the experience."

Garcia and Gallardo will have inspected the roads in Ruidoso, Cloudcroft, Alamogordo, Carrizozo, Corona, Fort Sumner and Santa Rosa areas before summer's end. So far, they said, "We have seen all kinds of animals - dead and alive."

However, one thing they haven't seen is a certain road off U.S. 54, just outside Carrizozo. "It's on the New Mexico Department of Transportation map," Garcia said. "It's on MapQuest. We've looked for it numerous times, but we can't find it."