GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — EGLE is bringing a second definition to the phrase “when the rubber meets the road.” The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy is expanding a pilot program that uses scraps of old rubber tires to repave roads.

The department has used the new formula in recent paving projects in Bay and Clare County. Kirsten Clemens, the scrap tire coordinator for EGLE’s Materials Management Division, said the projects would do more than keep those tires out of landfills.

“The scrap tire market in Michigan is in a transformation from managing scrap tires as a waste to creating economic value,” Clemens said in a release.

Outside of small quantities of rubber that are too dirty or contaminated, virtually every part of the tire can be recycled. Besides being used in road mix, EGLE says tires can be repurposed into mulch for rain gardens and septic fields and as weights for construction barrels.

A road crew lays down a coat of rubberized pavement in Bay County. (Courtesy EGLE)

According to EGLE, the two projects were completed using material recycled from roughly 60,000 tires, covering more than 5.5 miles of roadway. The project was designed and tested by researchers at Michigan Technological University using a $396,000 grant from EGLE. The stretches of road, which were laid by local crews, are staggered, to show differences between the conventional paving materials and the rubberized ones.

These are not the first projects to implement rubber into road projects. According to EGLE, projects were conducted in Saginaw County as far back as 2005.

“We have about 20 years of projects, and we’ve got some really solid technology now,” Clemens said in a release. “What we’re trying to do is expand the use by getting the material into the communities that need infrastructure solutions.”

EGLE says rubber-modified paving will help our state roads. In 2019, EGLE helped fund a Michigan Tech project conducted in Dickinson County to see how an asphalt-rubber mix would hold up to the extremes of the Upper Peninsula’s weather conditions. After two years, researchers said the rubberized road performed better than traditional pavement, including less rutting in the summer and less cracking in the winter.