Turning Bright Ideas into Innovation

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) conducts much of its pavement research at the Advanced Transportation Research and Engineering Laboratory (ATREL), a state-of-the-art facility located on 47 acres just 15 miles north of the UIUC campus. The complex includes 67,000 square feet of laboratories, high-tech distance learning/continuing education classrooms, office space, a technical library, and a computer facility.

ATREL’s goal is to provide high-quality education and research in the area of transportation and to advance the state of knowledge by developing innovative, economical, and reliable technologies for airport, highway, and rail systems.

To sustain ICT and the University of Illinois’ leadership in transportation research, ATREL is staffed and equipped to accommodate the investigation of a wide range of projects from basic science and theoretical research to full-scale field-testing and transportation infrastructure evaluation, including pavements, bridges, railroad traffic, and transportation systems. The lab is AASHTO accredited in the categories of quality systems, hot-mix asphalt (HMA), and aggregate.

ATREL houses several laboratories and an unequaled collection of equipment. It is home to several laboratory areas for testing large- and small-scale material samples with state-of-the art equipment, including several servo-hydraulic testing machines; asphalt binder and mixture equipment; concrete and aggregate equipment; vehicle-mounted equipment such as falling weight defelectometer (FWS) and ground penetrating radar (GPR); and imaging and noncontact stain measurement, among many other advanced systems.

ATREL is also home to the Accelerated Transportation Loading Assembly (ATLAS), which was acquired through funding from the State of Illinois in 1993. A $2 million investment, ATLAS can evaluate full-scale transportation systems subject to real-life traffic and environmental conditions. The system is capable of simulating aircraft, truck, or rail traffic distributions, testing all types of pavement systems, and applying load levels exceeding those of highway and airfield limits. ATLAS weighs 156 kips and is 124 feet long, 12 feet high, and 12 feet wide. It has been adapted to include a portable structure that allows control of daily temperature and moisture changes on the pavement section being studied.


Accelerated Transportation Loading Assembly (ATLAS).

The Traffic Operations Laboratory (TOL) is a valuable resource for hands-on instruction and research. It was established at ATREL to train IDOT personnel and contractors in the integration and working relationship of railroad and highway signal systems and has been continually updated since then. It is located in a 7,400-square-foot building that houses equipment to evaluate traffic signal components and fiber optic communications and includes an extensive collection of traffic signal control hardware, including controllers, detector units, and conflict monitors.

The materials used in highway research are stored and processed at the Materials Processing Facility (MPF), which houses the equipment necessary for samples preparation.

According to ATREL’s lead research engineer Aaron Coenen, the ICT team has been growing over recent years, and the lab facilities are being expanded and updated to accommodate the team and state-of-the-art equipment to ensure that ATREL remains at the forefront of transportation research efforts.

“It was not only the reputation of ICT and the CEE department at the U of I that sparked my interest in joining the team here, it’s that so much of what we do is innovative and applicable, practical work.  This is accomplished by way of new development, specifications, modifications to existing specifications, guidelines for best practices, and more,” says Coenen.