Ford's Michigan Proving Ground is undergoing a $13 million overhaul to its high-speed test track in Romeo, Mich. The investment is significant not only for what it will do – increase the company's vehicle quality testing capabilities – but also for what it won't do. Thanks to its green approach, the construction project won't contribute 130,000 tons of debris to local landfills.

When Mark Mikolaiczik, Michigan Proving Ground (MPG) site manager, began the bidding process to reconstruct the 52-year-old, five-mile track, he asked contractors for a plan to utilize best practices, considering quality, cost, schedule and the environmental impact. Angelo Iafrate Construction Company in nearby Warren, Mich., rose to the challenge with a design-build solution from the "waste not, want not" school of thought.

Rather than hauling away tons of demolition debris from the old track and trucking in new materials, the plan was to reuse nearly every bit of existing material, sending whatever couldn't be repurposed to a recycling center.

The process works like this: The old track is shattered into pieces, removed and transported to an onsite crusher, which processes the asphalt and concrete into recycled aggregate that is appropriately sized for road construction. While the subgrade is exposed after demolition, improvements are being made to increase the cross-slope of the track to enhance the existing water drainage system. The recycled aggregate is then transported back to the track, placed eight inches thick, compacted in place and covered with four layers of asphalt. The bottom two layers utilize 40 percent recycled asphalt pavement, or RAP, which is the maximum amount allowable under Michigan Department of Transportation guidelines. The third layer utilizes 25 percent RAP, and the fourth and final layer is a virgin mix for optimal quality control.

Meanwhile, the guardrail – all 20,420 linear feet of it – is unbolted and inspected to determine which portions can be reinstalled at the end of the project. The unusable steel beams are sent to a recycling center and the wood posts are mulched.

"Between the 130,000 tons of asphalt and concrete and the miles of guardrail, we're reusing and recycling around 200,000 cubic yards of material that would have ended up in a landfill," says Scott Redmon, development engineer at MPG. "That's the equivalent of a 12-story building on a one-acre footprint."

Not only that, but this green approach to construction is saving Ford roughly $12 million – and will result in a bonus new testing event. "We needed an eight-acre area to stage the recycling process," says Mikolaiczik. "Ordinarily, all of the asphalt millings from the demolition process would have to be cleaned up and disposed at the end of the job. But for essentially no cost, we'll leave those millings in place and use it for vehicle dynamics testing."

The original high-speed test track was constructed in 1956 to test Ford vehicles for quality and handling under real-world circumstances. Since then, there have been a few asphalt overlays, the most recent of which was done in 1987.

Dearborn's Product Development team depends on the nearby track for a wide range of testing, so it's crucial that the overhaul is expedient. In this case, green means go: Because materials are recycled and promptly repurposed, construction is taking significantly less time than if new materials had to be trucked in each day. The track is expected to open in the fall.

"This is going to be a world-class surface that will allow us to pick up a lot of refinements in the vehicle development process," says Mikolaiczik. "This will affect testing on everything from powertrain to handing to NVH [noise, vibration and harshness]. If there's a flaw, we'll find it and get it fixed."

  • Ford takes an environmentally responsible approach to upgrading its high-speed test track
  • Green construction process saves landfill space while providing world-class track for vehicle quality testing