Roadway Design and Construction

Contents of Design and Construction Module

This module covers the topics of momentum and energy conservation that are normally taught in a high school physics course or an intermediate school physical science course. Transportation topics include automobile collision analysis, roadside crash barriers, and truck runaway crash attenuator design. Specific relationships to the National Science Education Standards (NSES) pertaining to momentum, energy, Newton’s laws of motion, and scientific inquiry skills are outlined in the individual activities.

One Construction Module will supply hands-on experience for 1 group of 20.

  Estimated Classroom Time   Module Contents
Activity 1

15 minutes prep,
 5  minutes part a
10 minutes part b


Map of Study Area
Popcorn Kernels
Post-It Note Pads
Road Curves
Assorted Funnels
Highroad Software
Graphical Analysis Software
Transparent Road Tangents

Activity 2 15 minutes prep,
45 minutes homework
45 minutes class time
Activity 3 15 minutes prep,
45 minutes class time each for activities a, b, c
45 minutes discussion
Activity 4 10 minutes prep,
50 minutes class time
Activity54 1-3 hours prep,
class time:
1 hr for step 1,
4 hrs. total for steps 2 & 3
no time limit for step 4

Activity 1, How Much Traffic Can the Road Handle? is a 15-minute demonstration, illustrating how a roadway has a finite capacity: a maximum number of cars that can move through a lane within an hour. The popcorn portion (Parts A and C) is appropriate for middle and high school students, and the traffic flow portion (Part B) is appropriate for high school students.

Activity 2, Not In My Backyard!! is a one- to two-class-period, hands-on drawing exercise that asks students to determine how to align a road that will go from point A to point B, given that there is no optimal location for the road: students consider design consequences, costs, and environmental impacts.

Activity 3, How Much Does it Cost? uses spreadsheets and computer-based modeling to estimate real estate prices for the land that must be taken for the roadway.

Activity 4, Keep Me on the Road! uses the High Roads computer aided design (CAD) software to create a road on the computer, given the challenge of incorporating horizontal and vertical curvature at different speeds. While Activity 2 (for middle and high school students) introduces the idea that a curve limits traffic speed, Activity 4, (for high school students) delves into the underlying mathematics.

Activity 5, Take the Short Way Home, is a computer programming exercise in Visual Basic for Applications (a language comparable to Visual Basic but included with Microsoft Excel), where students design a program to determine the fastest route between two points. Then, poor and good signal progression are compared with the Synchro/SimTraffic simulation package. This activity introduces the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) concepts of sensors, traffic management systems, and software engineering.

Teachers may elect to do all, some, or none of the five activities in this module. The five activities are suitable for groups of 2-4 students. Diversity within the group is recommended; e.g., for Activity 2, each group may want to include “an artist, an organizer, and a technical expert.”