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Road Builder Still Working Asphalt Off After Retirement

Thu December 06, 2007 - Southeast Edition

PEA RIDGE, Ark. (AP) Although he no longer works full time, a day in the life of M.J. Hensley can be just as busy as when he was working.

Semi-retired, Hensley spends his days sharing his engineering expertise with his community, country and the world. A member of the Pea Ridge Planning Commission, Hensley’s years of experience building roadways and solving drainage problems are an asset to a city now facing expansive growth and development. He is often called upon by city officials who impart a better understanding of the blueprints and plans presented to them.

Hensley attends most of the technical meetings between developers, city building officials and the Planning Commission, and he often meets with developers and planners in the field to examine a project.

But application of his expertise is not limited to Pea Ridge or even Arkansas, though he was named Arkansas Engineer of the Year in 1970.

Hensley was on his way to Shanghai to give a presentation to the China Highway Department in March 2006 when he had a heart attack and had to send his paper to be presented without him. He’s been to Italy and France, to Belarus and Australia sharing his knowledge of asphalt and roadways.

As a child in south Arkansas living between Garland and Texarkana, Hensley said, he watched the construction of U.S. 82.

“They put the construction shop right across Highway 72 from our house. We played on the equipment,” he recalled. “I decided right then that I wanted to build roads.”

Hensley, the fourth of seven children, was raised by a single mother. He earned a degree from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

He also absorbed a good work ethic, and he remembers people who set a good example and provided him with opportunities to learn. Soft-spoken and humble, Hensley demurred when asked about himself. “It’s not about me, it’s about the engineering,” he said.

In one professional journal, writer John Davis had this to say about Hensley: “Thirty-some years ago Jay Hensley, chief engineer for the Asphalt Institute, concluded that asphalt was the most creative material on the face of planet earth and decided to spend his entire career promoting it.”

Upon Hensley’s retirement, Byron Lord, Federal Highway Administration deputy director of pavement technology, said: “I don’t think we’re going to miss him because I think he is going to stay. If you poke him, he’s going to bleed black.”

A civil engineer, Hensley has been inducted into the University of Arkansas Hall of Fame for engineers. He began his career in 1960 as a research engineer with the Arkansas Department of Transportation. He began working for the Asphalt Institute in 1967, working as area engineer for Arkansas and Louisiana, earning the title of chief engineer in 1999.

He is a lifetime member of Association of Asphalt Paving Technologists and a past member of the group’s board of directors, belongs to the Civil Engineering Academy at the University of Arkansas, and is chairman of the Arkansas Highway Research Advisory Committee.

Hensley has published more than 60 peer-reviewed papers on asphalt materials and design concepts in industry journals, including Transportation Research Board and the Association of Asphalt Paving Technologist. He was a leader in the development and promotion of rubblization technology and asphalt underlayments for railroad track beds. He also was a leader in the development of the Asphalt Institute’s thickness-design and mix-design manuals.

Rubblization is a process in which old pavement is ground up on site to provide a base for a new layer.

“You take the concrete and break it up and it makes it flexible. It bonds with the asphalt and does away with the cracking,” he said.

He said the first project in Arkansas to use rubblization was Interstate 40 out of North Little Rock in 1995.

Of all he’s accomplished, Hensley is the most pleased by being honored with the 2004 Asphalt Institute Award.

“It’s the biggest honor I’ve ever received,” he said.

Since he retired in 2000, Hensley has provided consultant services to Buffalo, N. Y., International Airport, was an adviser to the Republic of Belarus Road Institute, provided consultant services to the Sacramento International Airport Authority, to the Niagara Falls International Airport, was a member of the FAA Galaxy Consultant Team at National Pavement Test Facilities in Atlantic City, N.J., is currently helping teach at FAA design and construction seminars, provides consultant services for PCC pavement rubblization for RMI of Tulsa, Okla., and for the Officials at Transportation Technology Center Inc. in Pueblo, Colo., and the University of Kentucky.

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