John J. Forrer was the first Maintenance Engineer for the Virginia Department of Highways. Joining the highway fraternity in 1917, Mr. Forrer advanced through the engineering ranks to become Maintenance Engineer in 1923. He remained in this position until promoted to Assistant Chief Engineer in 1951, a position he held until his retirement from the department a year later. He later served as Executive Director for the newly organized Virginia Asphalt Association where he remained until retirement from active service in 1958.
Mr. Forrer was a pioneer in the use of bituminous materials for road construction. In the early 1920’s, he started the development of low-cost roads under the pay-as-you-go system. During these early days, he conducted many experiments with various types of asphalts and asphalt road oils used in surface treating soil base roads. In one early experiment, he mixed fifty five percent asphalt with forty five percent lubricating oil and used this material for surface treatments, adding a cover coat of local sand. This work was unsuccessful and for many years the Commissioner of Highways referred to it as “Forrer’s Folly”. Undaunted by criticism, Forrer continued his work on the development of a fast-setting asphalt material for surface treatments. Working with asphalt suppliers, several types of liquid asphalt were developed that were adaptable for this use.
He instigated the use of hot-mix sand-asphalt surfacings in Virginia, utilizing local pit-run sands as well as commercial materials. He worked constantly to improve old and develop new asphalt mixes for various traffic conditions. A great deal of the credit for the extensive network of asphalt roads in Virginia belongs to him.
John J. Forrer passed away on October 16, 1973.