On Wednesday, I had a chance to watch a demonstration of a uniquely Minnesotan pavement patching technology that combines an industrial-strength microwave with a special asphalt mix. What makes it “uniquely Minnesotan?” In addition to having been developed by University of Minnesota researchers and a Monticello-based company (and with some funding from MnDOT), this innovative method involves a special asphalt mix using magnetite, a mineral that abounds on Minnesota’s Iron Range.
It also addresses a very Minnesotan transportation problem: winter pavement repair. In the video above, Kirk Kjellberg of Microwave Utilities, Inc., highlights some of the benefits of using the 50,000-watt microwave to heat the pavement during patching. In addition to creating a longer-lasting patch, the microwave is considerably faster than many alternative techniques. The technology is still relatively new, but its supporters claim it allows for pavement repairs in the middle of winter that are as strong and durable as the ones road crews do in the summer.
The demonstration, which was organized for members of the Local Road Research Board, took place at MnDOT’s District 3 training facility in St. Cloud.
Over the last several years, MnDOT has been participating in a national pooled-fund study on using infrared cameras to spot subsurface damage on bridge decks. These damaged areas just below the deck surface are called “delaminations,” and they’re what causes potholes and cracks on the surface. Detecting them is a key part of what MnDOT bridge inspectors do, and it’s huge challenge.
Currently, one of the primary methods of locating delaminations is “chain-dragging” — literally, dragging chains across the surface of a bridge deck. Using this method, inspectors can listen for evidence of hollowed-out areas beneath the surface, which produce a different sound than solid areas. While it works, this practice forces bridge crews to close down lanes and work near moving traffic. These issues have led Minnesota and other states to look for alternatives, and infrared or “thermographic” imaging is one of the top contenders.
In the video above, MnDOT bridge inspector Eric Evens demonstrates how to inspect a bridge deck using an infrared camera (specifically, a FLIR T620 — the model selected for the study). The delaminated areas appear as white or “hot” spots in the image. Evens does a nice job of explaining some of the benefits and potential uses of the camera, including minimizing traffic delays. He also demonstrates the camera’s ability to simultaneously capture photos and infrared images, which could be useful for cataloging the conditions of bridge decks and programming schedules for repairs.
However, as Evens pointed out during the filming, there are both pros and cons to using infrared thermography. One downside is it’s really only effective as the bridge deck warms up in the morning. Another is that it takes some practice to be able to identify which of the “hot spots” are actual delaminations and which are merely dirt or debris on the deck surface, or some other kind of false positive.
In April, we posted about an innovative pothole-filling technology being developed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the University of Minnesota, Duluth. The technique involves zapping pothole patches and the surrounding pavement with a special truck-mounted, 50,000-watt microwave. Researchers have found that heating the base and the patch material at the same time creates a stronger, longer-lasting bond that provides for a more permanent pothole fix.
Last week, the MnDOT/UMD microwave technology found its way into a new MnDOT video (above) that also explores two other experimental pothole-patching methods. One involves using a large “electric oven”-type heating element instead of a microwave. The other utilizes a new exothermic (i.e. heat-generating) asphalt mixture containing taconite from northern Minnesota mines. The video compares the potential benefits of all three of the new technologies, which the department hopes will someday lead to “more pothole-patching power for the taxpayer dollar.”
If you weren’t able to attend the CTS Research Conference, or, if you simply want to check out presentations from other sessions, the videos of the keynote and luncheon speeches, as well as PPTs from most of the concurrent sessions, are now available on the CTS website. You won’t want to miss Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Ehlinger’s tuneful take on the links between health and transportation and Elizabeth Deakin’s view of new ways to get around.
Weigh-in-motion (WIM) systems consist of sensors placed in road pavements to measure the weight of vehicles passing over them, along with other data such as speed, axle load and spacing, and vehicle type. This data is used to enforce weight limits on trucks and is also useful in a wide range of other applications, such as pavement design and traffic analysis.
However, constructing and maintaining permanent roadside WIM stations is expensive, so these systems are installed primarily on roadways with heavy traffic, such as interstate and trunk highways, and rarely used for rural local roads. Meanwhile, heavy truck volumes on local roads are increasing, significantly shortening their lives. A less costly, portable WIM system is needed for such roads so that collected data can be used to better design these roads to accommodate heavy truck traffic.
One solution for bringing WIM technology to local roads is to implement a portable, reusable system similar to pneumatic tube counters used to conduct traffic counts. With funding and technical assistance from MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board, Professor Taek Kwon of the University of Minnesota—Duluth has developed a prototype system that has already proven to be nearly as accurate as the more expensive, permanent systems. MnDOT Research Services staff drove up to MnROAD this week to observe a live demonstration of the technology, and made this short video.
The research being conducted here is part of an implementation project based on Kwon’s original study, the results of which can be found in this research report and its accompanying two-page technical summary from MnDOT Research Services.
As is painfully evident this time of year, Minnesota’s weather is highly destructive to our asphalt roadways. One of the biggest challenges for transportation practitioners in cold-climate states like ours is low-temperature cracking in asphalt pavements. The distress caused by our extreme weather variations and constant freeze-thaw cycles wreaks havoc on our asphalt streets and highways, causing decreased ride quality, increased maintenance costs and shorter pavement lifespans.
On April 17, the Center for Transportation Studies presented its 2013 Research Partnership Award to the team members of a multi-state, Minnesota-led study designed to combat the problem. The project, “Investigation of Low Temperature Cracking in Asphalt Pavements, Phase II,” was a national pooled-fund study involving six state DOTs, four universities, the Minnesota Local Road Research Board and the Federal Highway Administration. It resulted in a new set of tools — test methods, material specifications and predictive models — that will be used to build longer-lasting pavements.
The project is a prime example of the value and benefits of cooperative research. Each organization brought its own unique strengths and expertise to bear on the problem. The University of Minnesota, led by Professor Mihai Marasteanu, brought its strength in lab testing of binders and mixtures, for example; other universities leveraged their respective expertise in data analysis, statistics and modeling capabilities. MnDOT, as the lead state agency, controlled the finances and kept the research on track, guiding the process through technical advisory panels. MnDOT’s materials laboratory and its unique MnROAD pavement research facility also played a key role in the study.
The above video provides an excellent overview of the project and includes commentary from key MnDOT and University of Minnesota team members. MnDOT is already moving to implement the results. It plans to use the new test procedure on several road construction projects this year. Iowa and Connecticut are among the other states reportedly planning implementation projects.
From left: University of Minnesota Professor Mihai Marasteanu, the project’s principal investigator; MnDOT State Aid Director Julie Skallman; MnROAD Operations Engineer Ben Worel; and CTS Associate Director for Development and Finance Dawn Spanhake, who presented the award. (Photo by Cadie Adhikary, Center for Transportation Studies)
Last night, KARE-11 News featured innovative pavement repair research sponsored by MnDOT. In a public-private partnership, Larry Zanko of the Natural Resources Research Institute at University of Minnesota Duluth connected with Krik Kjellberg’s company to microwave a mix of asphalt and magnetite in road holes, creating a long-lasting pothole fix.
In Minnesota, with our often wildly unpredictable weather and constant freeze-thaw cycles, potholes are a fact of life. Anyone who’s climbed into a motor vehicle in the last month or so has doubtlessly encountered countless reminders of this dismal reality. Fortunately, we have a small army of public works professionals devoted to eradicating this perennial nuisance. The Minnesota Local Road Research Board recently produced this video, which nicely explains the various methods used to combat potholes in Minnesota.
Potholes form when water invades cracks in the pavement and infiltrates the soil beneath it. When that water freezes, it stretches the road surface, causing the fractures to expand. After a few cycles of freezing and thawing, the pavement begins to buckle and eventually collapses under the weight of passing traffic, creating disruptions in the road’s surface.
Road crews use a variety of methods to fill potholes. The simplest method is the “throw-and-go” procedure, in which workers simply shovel an asphalt mixture into the pothole and pack it down until the road’s surface is smooth. A related method is “throw-and-roll,” where the patch is compacted using an asphalt roller.
Other methods include:
“semi-permanent” patching, in which workers clear the pothole of moisture and debris and then square the edges with a pavement saw before applying the patch;
“spray injection,” which involves using specialized equipment to blast water and debris out of the pothole before spray-filling it with asphalt mix and finally applying a dust coat of dry aggregate on top; and
“slurry” or “microsurfacing” crack filling, in which a slurry of aggregate, asphalt emulsion and mineral filler is placed over a crack in the pavement and leveled off using a squeegee.
This Asphalt Pavement Maintenance Field Guide (PDF), co-funded by MnDOT and produced by CTS, provides a handy how-to guide to pothole patching and other types of pavement repairs commonly applied by public works professionals in Minnesota.