Pothole Patching Study Yields Best Practices Guidance

Researchers identified four pothole repair methods suitable for Minnesota: cold mix, hot recycled asphalt, mastic material and mill-and-fill with hot-mix asphalt. They tracked the performance of each method at five sites in northern Minnesota for two years. Using the results from this monitoring period, researchers developed decision trees for selecting an appropriate repair method and best practices for using each method. The decision trees were developed in two formats: as a flowchart that can be used in a maintenance guide and as flash cards that can be laminated and used by maintenance crews for quick reference in the field.

“We wanted to develop a decision tree for choosing the right pothole repair method that could be laminated for use in the field,” said Susan Lodahl, Assistant State Maintenance Engineer, MnDOT Office of Maintenance.

“This project offers help deciding what kind of pothole patch is appropriate for the conditions, including the pothole dimensions, location in the roadway and the season,” said Manik Barman, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota Duluth Department of Civil Engineering.

What Was the Need?

Repairing potholes is one of the most public of road crews’ duties. Drivers notice cracks and holes, and feel the effects of short-term repairs that kick up gravel as wheels roll over patched holes.

Selecting the appropriate patching method and materials varies depending on several factors, including the size of the pothole and its location on the roadway. Patching methods and materials face seasonal challenges too. In northern Minnesota, asphalt plants shut down for the winter and don’t reopen before March, if then. Potholes that are repaired in cold weather aim for short-term fixes with patches that can be replaced when warm weather returns or when the pavement can be milled and overlaid with hot-mix asphalt (HMA). Road crews have tried applying HMA in winter using various heating systems and in-place recycling methods, but even warm weather patches only offer semipermanent repair.

Whether it’s spring, summer, fall or winter, choosing the best, most cost-effective or durable pothole repair method has remained a complicated puzzle, one that MnDOT would like to help road crews solve.

What Was Our Goal?

MnDOT funded this research to help road crews choose patching methods that match specific repair conditions. Researchers explored patching tools, materials and methods to identify those most appropriate to specific pothole conditions, road locations and time of year. They also evaluated the effectiveness of different methods based on durability, road safety, ride quality, driver satisfaction and other factors.

A researcher conducts a test on a pothole
A researcher conducts an on-site permeability test to determine how well a pothole repair seals and resists water penetration.

What Did We Do?

Research began with a comprehensive literature search of pothole repair methods in Minnesota and other states. From this search, investigators identified four repair methods that best suit Minnesota: cold mix, hot recycled asphalt, mastic material and mill-and-fill with HMA.

With help from the study’s Technical Advisory Panel, researchers identified five sites in MnDOT District 1 near Duluth, Minnesota, where they oversaw 20 pothole repairs. Investigators monitored these repairs for about two years before assessing the methods and their best applications. Researchers then developed decision trees to help road crews choose the most suitable method for each repair and compiled best practices to provide further guidance.

What Did We Learn?

The best practices describe the best uses of each of the four pothole repair methods along with guidelines for preparing the pothole for repair and placing the patching materials.

Cold-mix patches should be placed only in shallow potholes with depths of 2 inches or less. Deeper potholes should be repaired in two lifts, each compacted with a handheld compactor to prevent dishing or denting when the cold mix settles.

Hot mixes using recycled materials should be avoided. The aged binder slows the heating process, and its fines inhibit the bonding of the new binder and aggregate. The new binder also doesn’t seem to rejuvenate the old, and the patches age more rapidly. When hot mix is used for pothole repair, a handheld compactor is required. Recycling mixers such as the Stepp SRM 10-120 should be used to create virgin hot patch material using asphalt oil and sand or small aggregate.

Mastic material provides a smooth driving surface but appears to dish in potholes along longitudinal cracks because the material lacks the strength to support loads. Mastic should only be used on centerline joints and longitudinal joints along shoulders, where it stays in place. It should not be used in wheel paths.

Mill-and-fill with virgin HMA, when constructed with care, can be effective in eliminating dishing and raveling at the patch-pavement interface. Sufficient tack material must be used, and trucks should not be allowed to drive on the tack. The pothole should be filled with the proper amount of HMA, and the patch must be compacted sufficiently. Failure to carefully apply mill-and-fill can lead to significant deterioration at the patch-pavement interface after about 100 days, which can contribute to additional damage in the distressed area.

Using the findings from this study, researchers developed guidelines for patching method selection, placement, compaction practices and moisture control. They also developed decision trees for selecting the appropriate repair method for conditions. The decision trees are available in two formats: as a flowchart for use in maintenance guides and as flash cards for quick reference by maintenance crews in the field. The final report includes best practices and a step-by-step pictorial guide to patching.

Simple Decision Tree for Comprehensive Field Evaluation of Asphalt Patching Techniques

What’s Next?

The decision trees and best practices developed in this study can be easily combined into a patching guide that, with laminated flash cards, can be distributed to MnDOT road crews around the state. This research could be amplified by repeating the process with more pothole repairs in other areas of Minnesota to increase data for performance evaluation and analysis of best practices.

This post pertains to Report 2017-25, “Comprehensive Field Evaluation of Asphalt Patching Methods and Development of Simple Decision Trees and a Best Practices Manual,” published June 2017. 

Cost-Effective Strategies for Repairing Grout in Post-Tensioned Bridges

Researchers provided recommendations and general guidance to assist MnDOT in developing cost-effective strategies for future investigation and repair contracts of post-tensioned bridges built in Minnesota before 2003. To develop these recommendations, researchers identified grout voids in post-tensioning ducts on two representative bridges, documented strand corrosion and repaired voids by filling them with grout.

“With the guidelines developed in this project, we have a good basis for cost-effectively and efficiently inspecting post-tensioned bridges built before 2003,” said Dustin Thomas, South Region Bridge Construction Engineer, MnDOT Bridge Office.

“From a fiscal perspective, it makes sense to do limited inspections on these bridges before committing additional resources to more comprehensive inspection and repair,” said Mark Chauvin, Associate Principal and Unit Manager at Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.

What Was the Need?

Some concrete bridges in the United States are strengthened using post-tensioning—a method of reinforcing concrete by running steel strands through a hollow plastic or metal duct placed within the concrete element. Tension is then applied to these strands with a hydraulic jack, com-pressing the concrete and creating internal stresses that resist external traffic loads. Post-tensioning improves the durability of concrete and virtually eliminates cracking.

Post-tensioning ducts are filled with grout—a mixture of cement, sand and water that hardens around the steel strands. This practice prevents the strands from corroding if they are exposed to air, water and deicing chemicals.

Grouting materials used in bridges built before 2003 frequently produced voids where grout did not fully fill the post-tensioning ducts or cover the strands. These post-tensioning strands were vulnerable to corrosion, which can lead to deterioration in bridge elements over time. Once transportation agencies and the industry became aware of these issues, they improved their construction practices and began using prepackaged grout materials with additives so that the post-tensioning ducts would be completely filled.

About 40 post-tensioned bridges were built in Minnesota before 2003 that might still require repair. MnDOT commissioned a two-phase project to develop techniques for evaluating these structures. In the first phase of the project, completed in 2012, researchers inspected a representative sample of these bridges and developed a general inspection protocol to guide future investigations. In the second phase, described here, researchers developed additional guidance about grout repairs, as well as the most cost-effective contracting methods for such repairs.

What Was Our Goal?

The goal of the second phase of this project was to provide recommendations and general guidance that MnDOT could use to develop cost-effective strategies for future investigation and repair of post-tensioned bridges built in Minnesota before 2003. As part of this project, researchers identified grout voids in post-tensioning ducts on two representative bridges, documented strand corrosion and repaired voids by filling them with grout.

Workers repairing grout voids
Following bridge inspections, about one-third of discovered grout voids were filled using vacuum-assisted or pressure grouting repair techniques.

What Did We Do?

In 2013, researchers inspected three spans on two Minnesota bridges for voids around post-tensioning strands. They began the project by using ground penetrating radar to map the location of the ducts. Once the ducts were located and mapped, researchers used a borescope to visually inspect the duct interiors at locations where voids were likely to be present. When they found voids, they documented the percentage of the duct filled by grout and the extent of corrosion in the post-tensioning strands within the ducts, if any. Following inspection, researchers filled the voids with grout and installed sensors within the voids at two locations to monitor the long-term corrosion of post-tensioning strands.

Using their experience with these repairs, researchers then created guidelines that would help MnDOT develop cost-effective strategies that can be implemented in future post-tensioning duct investigation and repair contracts.

What Did We Learn?

Researchers found voids in 32 percent of inspected ducts. These voids were typically at least 10 feet long and about one-half the diameter of the duct. Although prestressing steel strands were exposed at approximately half of the grout voids, no significant corrosion of the strands was observed at any location. Light to moderate corrosion was usually observed on the inside surfaces of the galvanized metal ducts at grout voids.

The guidelines developed by researchers address:

  • Typical work plans for investigation and repair, including considerations for bridge access and traffic maintenance during inspection and repair.
  • Document review, including bridge design drawings and post-tensioning shop drawings.
  • Visual surveys to identify signs of distress near post-tensioning ducts.
  • Procedures for borescope inspection and remedial grouting repair.
  • Various contract and project approaches for developing specialized inspection and re-medial repair contracts, with a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. Using multiple contracts with graduated levels of inspection and repair will most likely provide MnDOT with the best value.
  • Planning-level cost information for seven representative pre-2003 post-tensioning bridges identified by MnDOT to assist in future budget calculations.

What’s Next?

The guidelines developed in this project will provide MnDOT with a framework to solicit and procure similar engineering and construction services contracts for post-tensioning bridges in Minnesota. Researchers recommend exploring additional techniques to more rapidly assess and inspect post-tensioned bridges, including noninvasive investigative methods that do not require drilling holes.

This post pertains to Report 2017-04, “Considerations for Development of Inspection and Remedial Grouting Contracts for Post-tensioned Bridges,” published January 2017.

Tailgate Test Kit Speeds Up Flocculant Choice to Reduce Sediment in Runoff

The Tailgate Test Kit quickly and easily identifies flocculants that reduce turbidity in construction stormwater discharge. The mobile test setup efficiently determines which of the many available products works best for a particular construction site. In this study, 13 product combinations were tested. A short list of five tests was developed, as well as worksheets to aid in calculating the amount of flocculant needed and developing scale-up procedures.

“The Tailgate Test Kit is a cost-effective innovation that will help us determine the flocculant and quantity of product to use in the field and in real time,” said Dwayne Stenlund, Natural Resources Program Coordinator, MnDOT Environmental Stewardship.

“It’s important to add to the body of knowledge in this area,” said Joel Toso,
Senior Water Resources Engineer, Wenck Associates, Inc. “The Tailgate Test Kit is already being used in the field to help both contractors and maintenance workers make decisions.”

What Was the Need?

Stormwater runoff from construction sites often carries sediment from soil erosion, causing the water to become cloudy or turbid. Federal, state and local stormwater regulations prohibit construction sites from discharging water that is too turbid into the environment. Instead, the runoff must be sent to ponds to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom of the pond. The remaining clear effluent may then be discharged from the site.

A worker collects a sample of construction site stormwater runoff in a plastic-lined settling pond while another looks on.
Testing stormwater sediment levels at the construction site allows field crews to begin treating turbid water quickly.

The chemicals in flocculants speed up the sediment settling process by causing the sediment particles to clump together and fall to the bottom more rapidly. A number of flocculating agents are commercially available. The most effective agent for a specific situation is generally deter-mined by testing various flocculants with water samples in a lab. This selection process usually takes one or two days. Only after the appropriate flocculant is selected can the entire pond be treated.

To speed up this process, MnDOT has developed the Tailgate Test Kit, a series of tests that can be conducted in the field to determine the most effective flocculant, as well as the correct amount, for a specific construction site and soil type. What used to take a day or two to process in the lab now can be accomplished by field crews in an hour or two on the tailgate of a truck, enabling workers to begin treating the ponded turbid water much more quickly.

What Was Our Goal?

The overall goal of this study was to build upon the findings of several recent research projects, including “Flocculation Treatment BMPs for Construction Water Discharges” (2014-25), by developing and improving field methods to reduce total suspended sediment from construction stormwater runoff. A specific aim was to create a method for work crews to test water samples in the field using a mobile test toolkit that contains flocculants identified in previous research. Other goals included determining the most effective amount of the flocculant needed, developing the calculations needed for scale-up once the best product is identified and implementing a test for residual unreacted product.

What Did We Do?

To identify a variety of flocculant product types to evaluate with the Tailgate Test Kit, the research team summarized stormwater best management practices from the literature and from other departments of transportation. Since the effectiveness of product types varies depending upon soil and sediment types and environmental conditions, researchers conducted 13 tests of nine flocculant products (alone and in combination) taken from five distinct product classifications: mineral, polyacrylamide, chitosan, bio-polymer and anionic polyacrylamide. They also tested water samples from eight locations in Minnesota to ensure a cross section of representative samples.

What Did We Learn?

Using the results from these tests, the research team developed a short list of five tests that could be conducted in the field and incorporated in the Tailgate Test Kit. The five tests represent a range of flocculant product classifications and reduce the time required to complete the tests.

The team also prepared worksheets with mixing and dosing guidance to help users identify the most effective amount of product to achieve the target turbidity goal. Finally, the team developed scale-up procedures to aid in using test results to determine full-scale dosing rates on-site and procedures for testing new flocculant products.

The researchers investigated four methods for testing residual flocculant to detect any unreacted product in a sample. A preferred method was not identified during the course of this research but would still be a desirable research outcome.

What’s Next?

Next steps for this research effort include field implementation and new product evaluation.

First, investigators recommend developing a training module and field guide for using the Tailgate Test Kit to encourage implementation of the mobile kit throughout the state. If users understand how it works and how to use the test results for scale-up calculations, they will be more likely to use it.

Second, the product list should be kept current by testing additional flocculant products. It may also be beneficial to create a category for flocculants on the MnDOT Approved/Qualified Products List.

Finally, methods to identify residual and unreacted flocculant product need to be developed. If excess flocculant product is used in field tests, the residues will eventually have to be collected and removed for disposal. Minimizing the excess flocculant used at construction sites is desirable.

This post pertains to Report 2017-32, “Tailgate Test Kit for Determining Appropriate Sediment Reducing Chemicals and Dose Rates,” published July 2017. 

New Project: Protecting RICWS and DMS From Wind Damage

MnDOT recently entered into a contract with the University of Minnesota (UMN) to complete a research project to keep wind from damaging rural intersection conflict warning signs (RICWS) and other digital message signs (DMS).

The project is titled “Understanding and Mitigating the Dynamic Behavior of RICWS and DMS Under Wind Loading.” Lauren Linderman, assistant professor at UMN’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering, will serve as the principal investigator. Jihshya Lin of MnDOT will serve as technical liaison.

“This project will find out the behavior of the DMS and RICWS under AASHTO defined design loads and develop the retrofitting system to avoid the experienced problems that will improve the public safety, reduce the maintenance cost and minimize impact to the traffic,” Lin said.


RICWS have exhibited excessive swaying under wind loads, leading to safety concerns regarding failure of the support structure at the base. It is believed the heavy weight of these signs has brought the frequency range of these systems too close to that of the wind excitations. There is a need to investigate the wind-induced dynamic effects on these sign structures and to propose modifications to the systems to reduce the likelihood of failure. There is also interest in investigating the dynamic behavior of the DMS, particularly the loads on the friction connection.

This research project involves a field investigation to determine the structural performance of these two types of sign structures. Laboratory tests using a towing tank facility and a wind tunnel will be performed on scaled models and opportunely modified models to improve performance and minimize unsteady loads.

The outcome of this project is expected to develop an understanding of the RICWS and DMS sign structures and to provide modifications to improve the structural performance of the RICWS sign structures while maintaining the crashworthy requirements. The results will help to ensure the uninterrupted service of these sign structures, which are important to public safety.


Project Tasks

  • Task 1A: Development of Field Instrumentation Plan and Instrumentation Purchase
  • Task 1B: Experimental Determination of Load Effects and Dynamic Characteristics of Post Mounted DMS in Field
  • Task 2A: Development of Numerical Models to Investigate Post Mounted DMS Sign Demands and Fatigue
  • Task 2B: Validation of Numerical Models to Investigate Post Mounted DMS Sign Demands and Fatigue
  • Task 3A: Investigation of Design Loads and Relevant Fatigue Considerations for DMS
  • Task 3B: Analysis of Design Loads and Anticipated Fatigue Life of DMS
  • Task 4: Experimental Determination of Dynamic Characteristics of RICWS in Field
  • Task 5: Development and Validation of Numerical Models to Investigate RICWS Signs
  • Task 6: Numerical and Experimental Investigation of Drag and Vortex Shedding Characteristics of RICWS Signs Using Scaled Models
  • Task 7: Numerical and Small-Scale Experimental Investigation of Modifications to RICWS Sign Panel to Reduce Effects of Vortex Shedding
  • Task 8: Numerical and Analytical Investigation of Noncommercial Means to Damp Motion of RICWS Blankout Sign Structure
  • Task 9A: Research Benefits and Implementation Steps Initial Memorandum
  • Task 9B: Research Benefits and Develop Implementation Steps
  • Task 10: Compile Report, Technical Advisory Panel Review and Revisions
  • Task 11: Editorial Review and Publication of Final Report

The project is scheduled to be completed in March 2019.

Reducing Driver Errors at Two-Lane Roundabouts

Researchers studied driving behavior at four multilane roundabouts to better understand the relationship between traffic control designs and driver errors. Data collected showed that certain traffic control changes decreased turn violations but failed to eliminate yield violations. Researchers were unable to identify long-term solutions for improving roundabout design and signage, and recommended further research to improve the overall safety and mobility of multilane roundabouts.

“Even though the study did not provide a silver bullet on how to prevent crashes at multilane roundabouts, it did create an efficient tool to analyze and quantify driving behavior data,” said Joe Gustafson, Traffic Engineer, Washington County Public Works.

“This study has advanced our knowledge in multilane roundabout safety and is one step closer to providing much needed improvements to roundabout design guidance,” said John Hourdos, Director, Minnesota Traffic Observatory, University of Minnesota.

What Was the Need?

Roundabouts have been shown to improve overall in-tersection safety compared to traditional traffic signals. However, noninjury crashes are sometimes more frequent on multilane roundabouts than on single-lane roundabouts due in part to driver confusion. Common driver errors such as failing to yield and turning violations on multilane roundabouts have contributed to an increase in noninjury crashes.

Given the benefits of improved mobility, traffic throughput and injury reduction of multilane roundabouts, reducing the noninjury crash rate at multilane roundabouts is important to facilitating their use by Minnesota cities and counties. Identifying solutions to reduce common driving violations would be more sustainable than the current practice of converting multilane roundabouts back to single-lane roundabouts.

In a previous study on a two-lane roundabout in Richfield, Minnesota, researchers demonstrated that traffic control  changes could reduce some of these driver errors. However, more data was needed to support study results. Understanding driver behavior and improving traffic control devices are key factors in designing safer multilane roundabouts.

What Was Our Goal?

With limited research on modern multilane roundabouts, the Minnesota Traffic Observatory sought to collect more data to evaluate the correlation between traffic control design features and collisions. Instead of conducting manual observations, researchers used an innovative video analysis tool to collect and process recorded videos of driving behaviors at test sites. Based on the analysis, they attempted to identify driver behaviors and error rates to help reduce noninjury crashes at multilane roundabouts.

What Did We Do?

The research team selected four multilane roundabouts in Minnesota — two in Mankato, one in Lakeville and one in St. Cloud — to observe undesirable driving maneuvers. At each roundabout site, researchers mounted video cameras at key locations to record one to two weeks of driving behavior. Only one roundabout could be observed at a time because only one set of specialized video equipment was available.

The raw videos were processed to produce a data set for analysis. Researchers used TrafficIntelligence, an open-source computer vision program, to automate extraction of vehicle trajectories from the raw footages. They used the same software to correct any errors to improve data reliability. The resulting clean data from the recorded videos were supplemented with historical crash frequency data reports obtained from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Collectively, data from both sources allowed researchers to thoroughly investigate the frequency and crash types from the four roundabouts. A statistical analysis of the data revealed that turn violations and yield violations were among the most common driving errors.

Researchers also looked at how violation rates vary with the roundabout’s location and relevant design features. Based on these findings, researchers proposed signage and striping changes to reduce driver errors at the two Mankato test sites. After the changes were implemented, they collected additional video data.

What Did We Learn?

This study provided one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of driving behavior at multilane roundabouts. Researchers were successful in finding solutions for reducing turn violations, but they were unable to identify solutions for yield violations despite the vast amount of data.

Minor differences in the design at each roundabout presented specific challenges. The analysis focused on how each varying design feature impacted driving behavior. Proposed traffic control changes such as extending solid lines between entrance lanes, adjusting the position of yield signs and adding one-way signs successfully decreased turn violations. However, data from before and after traffic control changes showed an insignificant impact on decreasing yield violations. Importantly, the study produced a list of ineffective traffic control methods that can be eliminated from future studies, saving engineers time and money.

The TrafficIntelligence tool was crucial in efficiently processing and cleaning large amounts of raw video. With improvements made to the software program, the tool should be an asset to future research on roundabouts and to other studies requiring observations of driving behavior.

What’s Next?

The traffic control changes that were successful at reducing crashes at two-lane roundabouts should be implemented by traffic engineers. In particular, large overhead directional signs or extended solid lines between entrance lanes should be installed to help reduce turning violations. The analysis method used in this study could also be used for a robust before-and-after evaluation of future modifications to traffic control devices.

Additional research could further scrutinize the data already collected, and researchers recommend that more data be collected to examine additional traffic control methods and other intersection design elements to improve the overall safety and mobility of two-lane roundabouts. This research could also serve as an impetus for the study of numerous roundabouts in a pooled fund effort involving several states.

This post pertains to the LRRB-produced Report 2017-30, “Evaluation of Safety and Mobility of Two-Lane Roundabouts,” published July 2017. A webinar recording of the report is also available.

MnDOT Chooses EasyMile for Autonomous Shuttle Bus Project

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Department of Transportation chose EasyMile, a France-based company specializing in driverless technology, to lead its autonomous shuttle bus pilot project. MnDOT announced in June it will begin testing the use of an autonomous shuttle bus in a cold weather climate.

“We’re excited to partner with EasyMile to help MnDOT test autonomous technology,” said Jay Hietpas, MnDOT state traffic engineer and project manager. “Their expertise will help us learn how these vehicles operate in a winter weather environment so we can advance this technology and position MnDOT and Minnesota as a leader.”

EasyMile, which has a location in Colorado, has conducted driverless technology cold weather tests in Finland and Norway. Minnesota will be their first cold weather test site in the U.S. EasyMile will use its EZ10 electric shuttle bus that has already transported 160,000 people more than 60,000 miles in 14 countries. The shuttle was tested in various environments and traffic conditions. During these tests, the shuttle operated crash-free.

The shuttle operates autonomously at low speeds on pre-mapped routes. It can transport between six and 12 people.

Initially, it will be tested at MnROAD, which is MnDOT’s pavement test facility. Testing will include how the shuttle operates in snow and ice conditions, at low temperatures and on roads where salt is used.

Testing is scheduled to start in November and go through February 2018. The shuttle will also be showcased during the week of the 2018 Super Bowl.

Hietpas said 3M will also be a partner in the project so the company can research various connected vehicle concepts including sensor enhancement and advanced roadway safety materials. When optimized, these materials would aid in safe human and machine road navigation.

Read more about the autonomous shuttle bus pilot project:

Related MnDOT research:

New Procedures Offer Guidance for Using Bonded Whitetopping on Asphalt Pavements

Researchers developed procedures for selecting asphalt pavements for thin whitetopping based on site examination and lab testing. Test results do not offer definitive indications of how overlaid asphalts will perform, but procedures offer recommendations on pre-overlay pavement treatment, testing protocols and design considerations for bonded concrete overlay of asphalt.

“This research established a procedure for testing pavement cores. However, more performance data on whitetopping is needed to correlate pavement performance and asphalt properties,” said Tim Andersen, Pavement Design Engineer, MnDOT Office of Materials and Road Research.

“These procedures address collecting field data and testing pavement core samples in the lab. They also provide useful guidance for pavement repair and design considerations for overlays,” said Dale Harrington, Principal Engineer, Snyder and Associates, Inc.

A badly rutted pavement.
Rutted and otherwise damaged asphalt pavement is a candidate for a bonded concrete overlay that can mitigate damage under the right site conditions.

What Was the Need?

Many counties throughout Minnesota have used bonded concrete overlays to rehabilitate asphalt pavement. Though not widely used by MnDOT, a bonded concrete overlay, or whitetopping, normally involves milling a few inches of asphalt off the damaged surface and placing 4 to 6 inches of concrete over the asphalt pavement. A well-bonded overlay can add 20 years to a pavement’s service life.

Bonded whitetopping performance has not been care-fully tracked, and correlation of its performance with the underlying pavement condition is not well understood. Be-fore MnDOT can expand its use of bonded whitetopping, materials engineers wanted to better understand what asphalt pavement conditions are best suited to this type of overlay, how asphalt behavior influences the concrete top layer and what underlying pavement characteristics affect the expected lifetime and performance of bonded white-topping.

What Was Our Goal?

This project sought to develop an integrated selection procedure for analyzing existing, distressed asphalt pavement to identify good candidates for bonded whitetopping and establish design considerations for a site-specific, effective concrete overlay. By testing pavement core samples in the lab, investigators wanted to identify asphalt pavement properties that correlate with distresses in concrete overlays that are 6 inches or less. They also sought specific recommendations for managing trans-verse cracking in asphalt to avoid reflective cracking into concrete overlays.

What Did We Do?

Researchers began with a literature review of approaches to selecting pavements for bonded whitetopping. The results of this review were used to develop testing procedures to identify the volumetric properties of existing asphalt pavements. Researchers applied these procedures to 22 pavement cores from six concrete overlay sites in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri. Selected projects entailed 4-inch to 6-inch overlays in fair to good condition that were built from 1994 through 2009. Data about mix design, asphalt condition, pavement thickness, overlay thickness, site conditions and other details were available for each site.

The research team compared roadway data with falling weight deflectometer measurements from pavement cores to evaluate field performance and design recommendations suggested by the selection procedure. To refine the procedures, investigators evaluated volumetric asphalt characteristics for their potential influence on premature overlay cracking due to stripping, slab migration and reflective cracking. Finally, the team developed a detailed selection process that includes steps to identify and test asphalt pavements with potential for bonded whitetopping, repair asphalt before overlays and establish design considerations for overlays based on the test results from the selected asphalt pavement.

What Did We Learn?

The selection procedure, which is based on recommended practices from the National Concrete Pavement Technology Center, has six steps:

  • Perform a desk review of available site data, including design, repair and environmental conditions.
  • Obtain pavement core samples.
  • Conduct site visits to examine existing conditions.
  • Obtain additional core samples for testing, when necessary.
  • Prepare preliminary cost and materials estimates, if practical.
  • Provide design recommendations.

Investigators tested pavement cores for air voids, density, stiffness, fatigue, aging, strip-ping potential and other distress parameters. Results were inconclusive in terms of identifying asphalt properties that lead to specific bonded concrete overlay failures or to long-term performance of bonded whitetopping projects. The pavement cores showed wide variation in material properties, but few of these distresses. Researchers framed the recommendations for testing volumetric properties in the format of MnDOT’s Pavement Design Manual, giving the agency an easily adoptable core testing protocol.

The selection procedures include information about the impact of transverse cracking, rutting, longitudinal cracking and other distresses on concrete overlays, and provide recommendations for treating various distresses before whitetopping. Design considerations for whitetopping are also provided based on site conditions and the results of core, ground penetrating radar and falling weight deflectometer testing.

What’s Next?

Tested overlay sections should be evaluated over time to determine if life expectancy is met or if asphalt stripping, slab migration or reflective cracking has decreased overlay life. Because volumetric tests failed to provide conclusive relationships between asphalt properties and overlay distress, further research is needed to identify mechanistic or field tests that could correlate asphalt properties with concrete overlay performance. Once this additional research is completed, the selection procedures identified could be refined and placed in the design guide. A life-cycle cost analysis of overlays would also be useful for decision-makers considering bonded concrete overlays of asphalt.

This Technical Summary pertains to Report 2017-24, “MnDOT Thin Whitetopping Selection Procedures,” published June 2017. 

Research Confirms Low-Binder Asphalt Pavement Mixtures Prone to Cracking

Disk-shaped compact tension test
The disk-shaped compact tension test determines fracture energy of pavement samples, a strong predictor of cracking performance.

Research showed that lower asphalt binder mixtures are susceptible to premature cracking. The current use of coarse-graded mix designs should be adjusted to narrow the gradation difference between larger and smaller aggregates in the mixes. While the research suggests such mixes should be used sparingly in Minnesota, it did not provide definitive data suggesting the practice should be stopped altogether. The practice may continue on a limited basis.

What Was the Need?

Introduced in 1993, Superpave has successfully helped transportation agencies in northern regions design asphalt pavements that are less susceptible to thermal cracking. When tested, Superpave-compliant designs were found to resist both rutting and thermal cracking.

Gradation-based design approaches have also allowed for the use of coarse-graded, low asphalt binder mixtures. These mix designs establish a maximum aggregate size and reduce the range of usable gradations. Such coarse-graded designs meet MnDOT specifications because the maximum aggregate size falls within the acceptable gradation range. However, the reduced fine aggregate content made possible by the use of coarse aggregates leads to a mix that, while still within specifications, offers less surface area to be coated by the asphalt binder and can encourage unwelcome permeability in the field. To win low-bid competitions, contractors have embraced these low-binder, coarse-graded designs to reduce binder and aggregate costs.

Transportation engineers noticed that these pavements seemed to “gray out” or lose their dark color more quickly than previous asphalt designs. These pavements also seemed to grow somewhat more brittle and were less able to rebound from loading. Such asphalts are thought to be prone to quicker failure than mixes with finer aggregate and more binder. Road designers typically attribute thermal cracking and potholing in low-binder asphalt to the increased permeability that leads to water incursion and freeze-thaw damage.

What Was Our Goal?

The goal of this project was to determine how well low-binder asphalt pavements per-form and whether current designs make sense in terms of cost–benefit and durability. Researchers would identify any relationship between reduced bitumen use and potential for cracking, and would suggest changes to specifications for coarse-graded asphalt pavement mixtures to prevent such cracking issues.

What Did We Do?

Researchers worked with MnDOT to identify 10 pavement locations in Minnesota that used 13 coarse-graded, low-binder asphalt mix designs. Investigators extracted data on cracking, roughness and other factors for these sites from MnDOT’s pavement management system. The research team then visited the sites and inspected the pavements.

Researchers developed a coring plan, and field samples were cored for volumetric analysis to determine the binder, aggregate, air void level and other properties of each mixture. They also tested permeability and dynamic modulus, and conducted fracture energy testing to determine cracking resistance.

Investigators used performance modeling to analyze the test results of pavement proper-ties and project pavement durability. Then they compared the projected performance to actual field performance. From this assessment, they drew recommendations for modifying specifications for MnDOT low-binder, coarse-graded asphalt mixtures.

What Did We Learn?

This study suggests MnDOT should reduce its use of coarse-graded asphalt mixtures, but the findings did not provide sufficient data to justify prohibiting the use of coarse- graded, low-binder asphalt designs.

Low-binder mixtures were prone to thermal and transverse cracking. Their high permeability left them vulnerable to premature moisture and freeze-thaw damage. Field and laboratory testing and modeling demonstrated that coarser mixtures produce excessive cracking in a short period of time. Thin overlays of 3 inches or less crack more quickly than thick overlays of 4 to 6 inches. Mechanistic-empirical simulations showed that low-binder asphalt mixtures were significantly inferior to higher-binder mixtures in terms of thermal cracking.

Most of the high-cracking mixtures showed low fracture energy in testing, suggesting the value of fracture energy testing and modeling. Disk-shaped compact tension testing showed that higher permeability mixtures correlate reasonably well with lower fracture energy. Eight of the 13 mixtures were more permeable than recommended, and six significantly so. Typical volumetric properties poorly predicted cracking.

To better project pavement performance, researchers recommend that MnDOT maintain volumetric testing-based specifications, but add performance testing-based specifications and testing designs for fracture energy, fracture resistance, modulus and other parameters. For Superpave designs, investigators suggest using a narrower aggregate gradation range, reducing the gradation gap between minimum and maximum aggregates in mixes.

What’s Next?

Although the research validates MnDOT engineers’ anecdotal concerns, the pavements evaluated were mostly overlays, which are known to be susceptible to transverse cracking because of flaws in underlying pavement layers. MnDOT may weigh the results and adjust specifications, but would likely require further study of coarse-graded mixture performance before ruling out its use or identifying situations in which coarse-graded mixtures may be the best option. Additional research could consider the use of nonuniform lift designs for asphalt pavements, varying mixes for each lift in the structure rather than using a single, uniform mix for every layer in the full depth of the pavement.

This post pertains to Report 2017-27, “Impact of Low Asphalt Binder for Coarse HMA Mixes,” published June 2017. 

Field Guide Helps Local Engineers Stabilize Damaged Slopes

Cover of Slope Stabilization Guide for Minnesota Local Government Engineers
The new guidebook provides eight cost‐effective stabilization techniques that local government engineers can undertake to stabilize slopes using local materials and equipment. 

Researchers identified 14 sites representing destabilized roadway slopes in Minnesota. Following site investigations, lab testing and modeling, researchers recommended eight slope stabilization techniques that local engineers can undertake without the help of outside geotechnical engineers. The methods were packaged in a simple, accessible field guide for county engineers.

“When most studies end, further research is needed. This project, however, created a user guide that local engineers can use right away to repair destabilized slopes,” said Blake Nelson, Geotechnologies Engineer, MnDOT Office of Materials and Road Research.

“This guide includes an easy-to-use flowchart that steers local engineers toward an appropriate slope stabilization technique,” said David Saftner, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota Duluth Department of Civil Engineering.

What Was the Need?

Winter weather and spring storms leave their mark on slopes along highways and at bridges. Erosion and other forces cut gashes and ravines into slopes. Some damage such as failing pavement at shoulders or sloughed off sections of a slope can be obvious to road users. Other, more subtle signs of creeping embankments may only catch the attention of engineers.

Slope failures must be repaired to prevent damage to roadways and embankments. When slope damage is severe, a geotechnical engineering firm must step in at some expense. By the time the first soil sample bore is pulled, county engineering departments may already be facing a bill of $20,000. But when damage is less severe, the county can often stabilize the slope using local materials and simple techniques.

Determining whether slope damage can be completed by local engineers or requires outside help remains a challenge for county road departments that often lack geotechnical expertise.

What Was Our Goal?

The Local Road Research Board (LRRB) funded a research project to determine effective methods for stabilizing damaged roadway slopes. These methods would be incorporated in a guide that local engineers could use to identify the type of slope failure and then select an appropriate repair method.

What Did We Do?

Investigators began by surveying Minnesota county engineering departments to identify sites that needed to be stabilized. Local engineers also provided details about both successful and unsuccessful stabilization methods that have been tried in the past. The re-search team inspected 14 destabilized sites identified in this effort and took soil samples from each site.

Then they conducted a literature review of slope stabilization methods, identifying 12 stabilization techniques. Based on this review, researchers tested the soil samples with direct shear tests to identify shear strength parameters such as effective friction angle and cohesion. They ran soil classification tests to measure plasticity, granularity and gradation, and moisture content. These properties were then used as inputs in slope modeling and parametric studies to examine viable repair techniques for each site.

Investigators summarized their analysis of each case and documented stabilization methods that would meet the needs identified in the case studies. Finally, the research team prepared a slope stabilization guide that local engineers could use in the field to identify the type of slope failure and the appropriate solution.

What Did We Learn?

Five of the destabilized sites featured primarily sandy soil, eight had fine-grained soil, and one was rocky. Slope failure was visible at nine of the sites. Groundwater management figured prominently in most sites and repairs.

The literature search identified approaches for specific types of failures. Managing groundwater and drainage improves shear strength in slide-prone areas; surface covers protect slopes from erosion; vegetation and plant roots stabilize soil; excavation and regrading reduce failure forces; and structural reinforcement features directly support slope materials.

Investigators identified eight slope failure mechanisms that encompassed the full range of destabilization scenarios presented in the case studies. Each method had been identified in survey responses as a technique used successfully at the local level. The site conditions that contributed to the failure were identified along with a repair solution for each failure type.

Using the findings from this project, researchers created a slope stabilization guide for Minnesota local government engineers. This field guide describes common slope failures and conditions that may contribute to each. It includes a simple, three-step flowchart that guides engineers to the appropriate repair technique by determining whether the damage is a creep or rotational failure, whether the soil is cohesive or granular, and if there are groundwater concerns.

Based on engineers’ answers, the flowchart directs them to one or more of the eight slope stabilization techniques, providing photographs and repair methods that have been successful in addressing slope problems along Minnesota roadways.

What’s Next?

The Slope Stabilization Guide for Minnesota Local Government Engineers will be sent to each of the 87 county engineering departments. Local engineers can keep the guide on hand when they investigate slope failures along their roadways, and with it quickly identify what work needs to be done to repair the damage.

This project dovetails with two ongoing MnDOT research efforts, Slope Failure Risk Analysis and MnDOT Slope Vulnerability Assessments.

For more related research, see the Protecting Roads From Flood Damage page on the MnDOT Research Services website.

This post pertains to the LRRB-produced Report 2017-17, “Slope Stabilization and Repair Solutions for Local Government Engineers,” and Report 2017-17G, “Slope Stabilization Guide for Minnesota Local Government Engineers,” both published June 2017. 

New recommendations aim to help roadside turfgrass thrive

Keeping Minnesota’s roadsides green is about more than just aesthetics—healthy turfgrass can improve water quality, reduce erosion and road noise, and provide animal habitat. However, harsh conditions such as heat, drought, and salt use can make it difficult for roadside turfgrass to thrive.

In 2014, as part of a study funded by the Minnesota Local Road Research Board (LRRB), researchers in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Horticultural Science identified a new salt-tolerant turfgrass mixture that could be used on Minnesota roadsides. But, when MnDOT began using the mixture, called MNST-12, the agency experienced a series of installation failures.

Now, led by Professor Eric Watkins, the research team has identified new best management practices for installing and establishing this type of salt-tolerant turfgrass.  The study, funded by the LRRB, specifically focused on watering practices, soil amendments, and planting date for both seed and sod.

“Newer improved seed or sod mixes like MNST-12 may have differing requirements for successful establishment compared to other species or cultivars that contractors and other turf professionals are more familiar with,” Watkins says. “Since all of these management practices are prescribed—or not prescribed—in the MnDOT specifications, generating data that can inform future specifications is a valuable outcome of this work.”

The study, which was conducted over several years, included experiments on how water should be applied to new MNST-12 turfgrass installations, the use of soil amendments at the time of establishment, and the effect of the seeding or sodding date on the success of a new planting.

Researchers tested turfgrass watering requirements using an automated rain-out shelter. Photo: Matt Cavanaugh

Based on their findings, the researchers recommend these changes to MnDOT specifications:

  • No soil amendments are necessary, but adequate seedbed preparation is important.
  • Seeding is preferred to sodding between August 15 and September 15.
  • Sodding can be permitted throughout the year, but only if the installer is able to supply frequent irrigation.
  • When watering in sod, attention should be given to the species being used and local rates of evapotranspiration (evaporation from both the soil and plant leaves). Sod installers can anticipate using between 100,000 and 170,000 gallons of water per acre to ensure a successful establishment.
  • Sod can be mowed as soon as sufficient root growth prevents an operator from manually pulling up pieces by hand, but it should not be mowed if wilting from heat or drought.

Currently, the researchers are using the results of this project to develop methods for educating and training stakeholders, including turfgrass installers, on these best management practices. They are also developing systems that could be used by installers in the field to help maximize the success rate of turfgrass installations.

“These best management practices can help limit installation failures and reduce maintenance inputs for future installations, providing both an economic and environmental benefit,” Watkins says.

“The knowledge and improved specifications we gained through this research will allow us to make our contractors more successful, which makes MnDOT successful,” says Dwayne Stenlund, MnDOT erosion control specialist. Because local agencies often rely on these MnDOT specifications as a guide for their projects, they will also benefit from the improved practices.

Stenlund also says the new specifications—especially those related to watering requirements—could allow for a clearer understanding of the true cost and value of turfgrass installation and maintenance work, which could ultimately improve the accuracy of the project bidding process.

In another project, the research team is exploring other turfgrass stresses, such as ice cover and heat. They are also testing additional turfgrass species and mixtures in an effort to continue improving MnDOT specifications for roadside turfgrass installations.

Minnesota transportation research blog