If there was ever a winter that demonstrated what cold weather can do to asphalt pavements, last one was it. But future winters may wreak less havoc on Minnesota roadways, thanks to a new asphalt mixture test in the final stages of evaluation by MnDOT’s Office of Materials and Road Research (OMRR).
Developed through a decade-long multi-state research project, the Disc-shaped Compact Tension (DCT) test evaluates the low-temperature performance of asphalt mixes. (See a video about the project that helped develop the DCT test below.)
For the first time, engineers will be able to predict how well a contractor’s proposed asphalt mix will hold up under harsh Minnesota winters.
“Performance testing is assuring that we’re getting what we’re paying for,” explained MnDOT Research Project Engineer Luke Johanneck.
Low-temperature cracking is the most prevalent form of distress found in asphalt pavements in cold climates. As the temperature drops, the pavement tries to shrink, creating cracks that allow water to seep in and eventually lead to pavement deterioration.
Until now, engineers have typically evaluated the individual components (such as amount of crushed aggregate and asphalt binder grade) and volumetric properties (such as air voids and asphalt content) of an asphalt mix, not how the final product performs in low temperature.
“It’s like baking a cake,” explained MnDOT Bituminous Engineer John Garrity. “Our current system says put in a half-cup of oil, two eggs and cake mix. Rather than just looking just at those individual components, taste the cake to see how good it is.”
Created by researchers at the University of Illinois, the DCT test applies tension to an asphalt mixture sample to determine its thermal fracture resistance. The test was determined to be the best of several methods looked at in another research study, conducted by the University of Minnesota with assistance from neighboring state universities.
The Office of Materials and Road Research is conducting pilot tests to become more familiar with the DCT test and to educate road contractors, who may eventually be required to use the test in Minnesota.
“This is very new to a lot of people that have been in the business for a long time,” Johanneck said.
Last summer, OMRR asked five contractors to submit asphalt mixes for testing. If a mix didn’t pass, the contractor was given suggestions for how to modify their recipe to better resist thermal cracking. This summer, OMRR plans to collect asphalt mixes from around the state to see how they measure up against a set of performance targets that were developed in the pooled fund study.
“We envision this at some point being part of our standard bid specifications,” Garrity said.
Those with a professional interest in the subject might be interested in a new video from MnDOT Research Services & Library (below) that demonstrates how to do the sample preparation for the DCT test.
Current DCT Test Implementation Project (2014) Pooling Our Research: Designing Asphalt Pavements That Resist Cracking at Low Temperatures (March 2013 Technical Summary) Synthesis of Performance Testing of Asphalt Concrete (September 2011) Investigation of Low Temperature Cracking in Asphalt Pavements National Pooled Fund Study 776 (2007 report)