Levy OKs experiment to turn dirt roads to cement

A University of Florida and Buchholz High School graduate turned civil engineer will work with Levy County to pilot a soil stabilization experiment that turns dirt roads into cement.

Cory Nichols, senior vice president of AE Engineering in Jacksonville has partnered with ELJ Technologies to introduce a protein additive to existing dirt roads, which will accelerate a cohesive bonding of soil particles. After just a few hours the combination forms a dense, cement-like base that resists water and holds soil materials together permanently.

At Tuesday’s Levy County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, Commissioner Matt Brooks proposed two test roads for the county to try the product on and the BOCC unanimously approved the idea. Those two roads are NE 180th Avenue across from Williston Airport and NE 55th Street from Devil’s Den to State Road 27.

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Brooks said he met with Nichols, ELJ Technologies and the Levy County Road Department last week and all are onboard with the idea.

Levy County Commissioner Matt Brooks

“It will cut down on dust by 50 percent, [and] the road is supposed to last 3 to 5 times longer,” Brooks said. “That’s less grading and less rock you’ll have to add to the road later.”

Nichols grew up in Alachua County and later as an engineer oversaw the reconstruction of State Road 24 from Gainesville to Cedar Key.

“We were trying to find a place where it could potentially benefit the community,” said Nichols, a 1988 Buchholz graduate who earned degrees in civil engineering and construction management from UF.

Nichols is not charging Levy County for the experiment and said he aims to get “proof of concept,” which will allow him to apply to add the process to the Florida Department of Transportation’s approved products list.

The first stage of the experiment involves collecting soil samples that will go to a lab to determine whether there is enough clay in the dirt to maximize the effect of the stabilizing protein additive. He said if the soil needs more clay, it will be added.

Alice LaLonde, administrative coordinator for the Levy County Road Department, told the BOCC that the road crews are ready to help out with the experiment and are excited to see if it works.

Prior to adding the protein mix to the dirt road, road crews will scarify the surface and crush, pulverize and blend the existing material.

Step 2 of the process involves uniformly spraying water and the additive over the pulverized material.

Step 3 includes using a stone crusher to pass over the soil at full scarified depth to mix the additive thoroughly with the soil.

Step 4 is the leveling process using a blade to eliminate any loose materials and set the grade for drainage and slope.

Step 5 is using rollers to compact and seal the surface.

UF grad Cory Nichols

After 72 hours—or less, if it’s sunny—Nichols said the road will be solid and ready to add a layer of chip seal and an overlay if desired.

“For rural counties that have a lot of dirt roads, it’s an incredible benefit,” Nichols said. “With Levy County doing a majority of the work themselves on those roads, if we can fine tune the process, I think it can really save the county an incredible amount of money and allow the road crews to address more roads quickly.”

All of the products are green and non-toxic with no negative environmental impact, Nichols said.

If all goes according to plan, he said, “We’re going to have most rural counties using this product in the next five years.”

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