Asphalt sealant settles in a routed channel over an asphalt pavement crack.

Rout-and-Seal Offers Slight Cost–Benefit Over Clean-and-Seal Repairs

In a recently completed study, Minnesota researchers compare the performance and cost-benefit of the clean-and-seal versus rout-and-seal techniques for repairing asphalt pavement cracks.

Survey results, construction data and field evaluation of new repairs and their performance over two years gave rout-and-seal repairs a slight cost–benefit edge over clean-and-seal repairs. At an average performance index level, rout-and-seal offered about four years of service before failure; clean-and-seal offered about three years. The study also recommends rout-and-seal for use over clay and silt subgrades in most conditions. Decision trees were developed to help planners and repair crews select an appropriate repair method.

Background

Preserving asphalt pavements so they maintain performance for decades requires a variety of repairs, including sealing cracks. Cracks allow water to seep into pavement structures, leading to damage from freeze-thaw expansion, stripping of the asphalt’s bond from the underlying structure, potholes and crack expansion.  

For most crack repairs, road crews clean the crack and apply an asphaltic filler or sealant. MnDOT uses two approaches to repair cracks and create a smooth ride for passing vehicles: clean-and-seal and rout-and-seal. Both treatments force traffic closures. 

Clean-and-seal asphalt crack repair begins by using compressed air to clean the crack before sealing it.

With clean-and-seal, compressed air is used to remove debris from the crack before a sealant is applied. With rout-and-seal, a saw or router is used to grind a shallow trench or reservoir over the crack. The routed seam is then filled with an asphaltic sealant. 

After routing a shallow channel over the pavement crack, repair workers fill the crack with asphaltic sealant.

Rout-and-seal requires more time and, in many cases, slightly more sealant, making it more expensive than clean-and-seal. Some agencies favor clean-and-seal because it is less expensive, reduces the time crews are on the road and frees more time to maintain other cracks. 

What Was Our Goal?

Researchers sought to determine which of the two repair methods offers the better value over time. If rout-and-seal delivers a longer-lasting repair, it may be more cost-effective than clean-and-seal in terms of life-cycle cost. The research team also needed to develop guidelines for selecting the most suitable repair method for the damaged pavement. 

What Did We Do?

Researchers conducted a literature search to see how agencies around the country approach asphalt crack repair. The research team then surveyed Minnesota road agencies to see which repair method agencies prefer and how long repairs typically last. 

To review performance of crack sealing, researchers evaluated the MnDOT construction logs of old repair sites and visited 11 new repair sites. These locations were revisited two, six, eight, 12 and 18 months following the repair. To calculate a performance index rating, researchers recorded data about site conditions that included sealant age, traffic level, subgrade soil type and crack sealing performance. Two sites were removed from the analysis when local crews applied chip seals to the pavements.

Investigators calculated performance index levels for each repair method at each site. They gathered cost data where available from bid-letting paperwork and determined life-cycle costs. Finally, the research team created decision trees that planners and maintenance crews can use to help select crack repair methods. 

What Did We Learn?

“This study provided very useful information. The rout-and-seal has a better cost–benefit over the life of the pavement than the clean-and-seal, however, they are relatively close. Agencies will need to decide if they have the manpower or resources to perform one over the other.”

—Dan Knapek, Assistant County Engineer, Sherburne County Public Works

Limited research was identified that compared clean-and-seal and rout-and-seal treatments. Most studies of asphalt crack sealing compared unsealed and sealed pavement performance and have established that sealing does extend pavement life. None compared cost–benefits of the two methods.

Of 47 survey respondents, 68 percent use rout-and-seal and 32 percent use clean-and-seal. Responses identified no clear trends in life expectancies for the two methods, with predictions for service until failure falling predominantly in two to 10 years for clean-and-seal and two to 15 years for rout-and-seal. The most common criteria for choosing a method were crack or pavement condition (46 percent of respondents) and predetermined maintenance schedules (24 percent). 

Analysis of MnDOT construction data found no statistically significant difference in life expectancies for the two methods, with service lives of 6.4 years for rout-and-seal and 6 years for clean-and-seal. A similarly slight advantage for service lives of both treatments was identified for low-volume roads over higher-volume roads. 

After one year of service, the new seal sites delivered strong performance index figures. Short-term performance on rural roads was identical for the two methods. After the severe 2018-2019 winter, however, performance dropped significantly; spalling damage was frequently observed at rout-and-seal sites. 

Analysis of old and new seal projects showed that at an average performance index level, rout-and-seal repairs last about four years and clean-and-seal about three. Life-cycle cost analysis found rout-and-seal slightly more effective. Because the difference is slight, factors such as treatment cost, life expectancy, ease of operation, traffic level and crew manager opinion may guide selection of sealing strategies. 

What’s Next?

Researchers developed two decision trees for selecting a repair method: one for pavement management and another for maintenance crews. Rout-and-seal is recommended for pavements over clay and silt subgrades. 

Research that extends monitoring of the new crack seal sites for up to five years would provide useful data on performance and comparison of the effectiveness of the two methods.

“To help select an appropriate crack repair method, we developed two decision trees: a detailed one and a simple one with only three variables—crack size, traffic level and the number of times a crack has been sealed.” 

—Manik Barman, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota Duluth Department of Civil Engineering

This Technical Summary pertains to Report 2019-26, “Cost/Benefit Analysis of the Effectiveness of Crack Sealing Techniques,” published June 2019. Visit the MnDOT research project page for more information.

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