Tim Arnold

Auburn University alumnus Tim Arnold spent years trying to make his idea for a musical road in Auburn a reality

Thanks to the idea and efforts of an Auburn University alumnus, fans will be able to rouse their Auburn spirits to the tune of a musical road that plays the Auburn fight song.

Experiencing two other musical roads in Lancaster, California, and New Mexico inspired Auburn engineering alumnus Tim Arnold, who graduated in 1994, to bring the concept to Auburn.

Auburn's new "War Eagle Road," the third musical road in the country, plays the opening bars of Auburn's fight song, "War Eagle," when northbound drivers roll over the DOT-approved pavement tape on South Donahue Drive at 35 mph. 

"It just crept into my head one day, wouldn’t it be great if Auburn had a musical road in town to play the fight song," said Arnold, who lives in Auburn. "From there, it was one of those things I realized that no one else was going to do, so if I wanted it to happen I had to make it work."

The process of brainstorming the idea for the musical road took a year or two, said Arnold, who added that it took about another two years for the idea to come to fruition. 

"It does take a lot of science and hard work to figure it out and make it real," he said. "More than anything it took just not giving up. It would have been really easy to go, ‘Isn’t that a neat idea.' But this one I had to make real."

After coming up with the idea, Arnold set about learning the science behind it, getting the physics down and reverse engineering it so that the correct notes would play.

"What we all conventionally refer to as musical notes are really just vibrations, specific math vibrations," he said, noting that an 'A' note is 440 Hz. "The guitar string or piano string vibrates at 440 beats per second, so the road is really just reverse engineering the process with a fixed speed limit to mimic those vibrations. You’re forcing the car tire to create those same patterns.

"The height correlation is for amplitude, for volume, so a thicker material would make a louder musical note. But it’s the distance between the bumps that makes frequency."

Arnold worked with Auburn engineering faculty and staff to innovate some new approaches to creating a musical road, including using pavement tape instead of cutting grooves into the road, like other musical road projects. 

"Using this road tape makes it the first surface application, non-destructive musical road," he said. "We’re hopeful this is a better mousetrap, as they say.

"It’s a DOT-approved pavement tape, so it’s made for roads. It’s super-sticky stuff and really durable. We hope it lasts four to six, maybe eight years."

Arnold and his team tested their musical tape configurations on an auxiliary road at Auburn's National Center for Asphalt Technology four times over the past year.

The musical road could also make an impact on safety down that stretch of South Donahue, which recently saw its speed limit drop from 45 to 35 miles per hour after the road was reconfigured to accommodate wider bike lanes. The change in speed limit also forced the math to be redone and another test out at NCAT. 

"People will blow right past the 35 mile per hour speed limit sign, but if you say there’s a musical road coming up and you’ve got to drive this number to hear it, people will hit the cruise control," he said. "They’ll make sure they’re going that number."

Arnold's efforts might not stop here, as he's already mulling an idea for another musical addition to Auburn's roadways. 

"I’m already starting the math on “Glory, Glory to Ole Auburn."

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