Category Archives: Materials and Construction

Design Considerations for Embankment Protection During Overtopping Events

Roadways in Minnesota’s Red River watershed are prone to flooding and overtopping, where wide flows of water wash across the surface of the roadway. Repairing the resulting damage to roadway embankments can be costly and time-consuming, requiring lengthy road closures. Protecting roads from destructive scour could significantly reduce the cost and time of repairs after a flood event. Researchers investigated three “soft” design methods using full-scale models and field monitoring, with flexible geogrid mat providing the best erosion protection. Regardless of protection technique, any physical separation from the soil beneath led to failure by creating a pathway for water to follow. Establishing root growth and vegetation would improve the performance of all techniques by anchoring the soil.

“This project developed a fairly complete matrix of useful erosion protection measures that our own staff can implement—techniques that are less elaborate and more cost-effective than hiring contractors,” said J.T. Anderson, Assistant District Engineer, MnDOT District 2.

“This project was a combination of basic and applied science, and is a great example of the university and MnDOT working together successfully to solve problems unique to our geography and climate,” said Jeff Marr, Associate Director, Engineering and Facilities, University of Minnesota St. Anthony Falls Laboratory.

What Was the Need?

Roadways in the Red River watershed are prone to flooding and overtopping, where wide flows of water wash across the surface of the roadway. Downstream scour and erosion of roadway embankments can result in breach or washout of the entire roadway. Repairing the damage caused by flooding and overtopping can be costly and time-consuming, requiring lengthy road closures. Frequent flood events in recent years reinforce the need to protect roadways where flooding is likely to occur.

Raising the roadway to prevent overtopping is not a feasible solution, as flood plain law does not allow moving the problem elsewhere by backing up the water. The most cost-effective option is to allow floodwaters to overtop roadways and to try to protect their embankments from scour. Protecting roads from destructive scour and erosion by developing cost-effective scour prevention measures could greatly reduce the cost of repairs, as well as the time required to reopen the roadway after a flood event.

What Was Our Goal?

The goal of this project was to investigate the effectiveness of slope protection techniques to shield overtopped roadways and their downstream embankments from scour and erosion. A further goal was to use cost-effective methods that could be installed by local agencies instead of contractors. The researchers evaluated several “soft” design methods using an integrated approach of full-scale models and field monitoring.

What Did We Do?

Using the findings from a literature review, the research team developed a field-based program to collect data on the hydraulics associated with full-scale overtopping events. Researchers recorded flood stage at several locations near the Red River during over-topping events and evaluated the failure modes under natural conditions. Annual field monitoring occurred from 2013 through 2016 during overtopping events.

Next, the research team conducted a series of experiments at a full-scale laboratory facility to study the hydraulic and erosional processes associated with overtopping. The facility simulated a transverse section of a roadway and included an upstream water supply, road crest, shoulder and downstream embankment slope.

Photo of sod growing through square mesh plastic geogrid material
Sod is overlaid with geogrid to help stabilize the sod’s root system and soil beneath.

Two slopes were examined in the lab: 4:1 (horizontal:vertical) and 6:1. With bare soil used as a control, three erosion protection techniques were investigated: armored sod hydraulic soil stabilization, turf reinforcement mat (Enkamat) and flexible concrete geogrid mat (Flexamat). All three are alternatives to riprap and other hardscapes, and encourage vegetation to grow through a mat, helping to stabilize the soil and protect the embankment from scour and erosion.

What Did We Learn?

The researchers were able to draw some definitive conclusions from the laboratory experiments:

  • Bare soil with no vegetative cover (the control) is highly susceptible to erosion and is the worst-case scenario. New installations should have established vegetation before the first overtopping event is expected.
  • All three mitigation techniques reduced erosion, but the flexible concrete geogrid mat provided the best protection. Researchers noted that these results describe overtopping that occurred immediately after the protection treatments were installed. Established vegetation and root growth would likely improve the performance of all techniques.
  • Initiation of erosion appears to be linked to small-scale inconsistencies in the soil, erosion control material and placement of the protection technique. Small failures can quickly develop into mass failure of the embankment.
  • Failure occurred in areas where the protection technique physically separated from the surface of the soil and exposed a direct pathway for the water to flow. Inflexible protection techniques were the poorest performers.
  • Common locations for failure were the toe of the slope and the upstream transition from the shoulder to the soil slope, with steeper slopes failing most often.

What’s Next?

No mature vegetation existed on the embankment slope in the laboratory flume, which mimics the post-construction period in the field. Full vegetation is more typical for much of an embankment’s life cycle. Since one of the most important functions of vegetation on a slope is the ability of its roots to anchor soil, further study of these techniques with mature vegetation could provide a better understanding of their effects.

Future studies should include other stabilization techniques as well as the effects of overtopping on frozen and thawing soils, through-embankment seepage or piping, and various soil types on performance of the stabilization technique. Future projects could also evaluate the use of multiple techniques along with the study of anchoring improvements and longevity of the erosion control products.


This post pertains to the LRRB-produced Report 2017-21, “Design Considerations for Embankment Protection During Road Overtopping Events,” published June 2017. NCHRP Synthesis Report 496, “Minimizing Roadway Embankment Damage from Flooding” provides the state of the practice on mitigating damage from overtopping. 

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. 

Recycled Asphalt Pavement Use is Increasing

MnDOT has long been a leader in the use of recycled asphalt pavement or RAP. Much of the nation’s current use of RAP in hot mix paving asphalt is based on the methods first used in a 1978 project that reconstructed the streets in what is now the 3M campus in Maplewood.

Subsequent MnDOT projects using as much as 80 percent RAP in hot mix paving revealed significant pavement performance problems, according to Curt Turgeon, state pavement engineer.

Currently, MnDOT asphalt paving specifications allow 30 percent RAP in overlay projects and 20 percent RAP when crack resistance asphalt cements are used in new or reclaimed pavements.

For economic and environmental reasons, Turgeon said MnDOT has renewed interest in increasing the use of RAP. Work includes trials of varying percentages in hot mix, trials at MnROAD of cold central plant recycling, and continued use of cold in-place recycling and full depth reclamation.

Increase in hot mix percentages

In District 6, a 13-mile section of the 30-mile Hwy 52 resurfacing project contains 40 percent RAP on the wide outside shoulders. The mixture contains proprietary additives to potentially assist in the rejuvenation of the RAP.

Tom Meath, District 6 materials engineer, said the higher percentage is being used because of the abundance of RAP available.

“This project allows the contractor to use up stockpiles of pavement from this and other projects and reduces the amount of new material needed, while not diminishing the quality of what’s used in the traveling lanes,” he said.

Meath said there are counties and cities in District 6 already using 40 percent RAP, but this is the first time MnDOT is trying it.

“We’re trying to figure out ways to use more RAP,” he said. “That’s a lot of money sitting there when we remove an asphalt pavement.”

Cold central plant recycling

This year’s MnROAD reconstruction, funded by the National Road Research Alliance, contains test sections of cold central plant recycling. This process uses 100 percent RAP mixed in a standard plant at ambient temperatures using an emulsified or foamed asphalt cement. The result is a product that is not resilient enough be used as a top surfacing so the test sections will receive either a standard hot mix overlay or a double chip seal.

Cold in-place recycling

The resurfacing portion of the Hwy 110 project east of I-35E and I-494 in Mendota Heights and Inver Grove Heights will use 100 percent recycled asphalt as the base layer of pavement.

Tim Clyne, Metro pavement and materials engineer, said using 100 percent saves on rock and asphalt costs, trucking costs and time. Since the material is reused with the cold in-place recycling process, the result is a more variable product than the material produced at the plant. Hot mix will be used as the top surface.

“It’s not a new technology, but this is the first time Metro has used the 100 percent RAP in at least 30 years,” he said. “It provides a long-term pavement solution for an extended pavement life.”

See a video of cold in-place recycling, which shows a milling machine, a machine that screens and crushes oversize materials and then mixes in an asphalt emulsion, an asphalt tank and an asphalt paver and roller.

Full depth reclamation

Full depth reclamation uses equipment often described as a rototiller for pavements. The asphalt pavement and some of the existing base is ground together in place. Multiple passes of the reclaimer are often used. The final pass may include the addition of a binder such as asphalt emulsion, foamed asphalt, cement or lime. The result is an aggregate base with the old crack pattern completely erased.

“Hot mix overlays on full depth reclamation base have shown excellent performance compared to a typical mill and overlay project,” said Turgeon.

Economic and performance benefits of these techniques are well understood.  Until recently, the environmental benefits of using materials in place instead of hauling off to a plant haven’t been well documented. MnDOT participates in the Recycled Materials Resource Center pooled fund project now housed at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

In June 2017, the RMRC completed an analysis of nine paving projects that documented an average of 22 percent overall savings and 20 percent savings in water usage.


This post was written by Sue Roe and was originally published on MnDOT’s Newsline on  Aug. 23, 2017. 

Using Recycled Concrete Aggregate in New Concrete Pavement Mixes

Using recycled pavement as aggregate in new concrete mixes can save money and promote environmental sustainability. New design methods published in a new research report allow engineers to create more durable mixes from recycled aggregate than in the past, reducing the need for virgin aggregate, a diminishing and expensive resource.

“This report shows that a lot can be done with recycled aggregate,” said Matt Zeller, Executive Director, Concrete Paving Association of Minnesota. “We can get the strength up to that of concrete with virgin aggregate by bumping our mix design and lowering our water-to-cement ratio.”

“Concrete pavement made with RCA can be beneficial both economically and environmentally,” said Farhad Reza, Professor, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering.

Reza served as the project’s principal investigator.

What Was the Need?

When pavements are due for reconstruction, the old pavement is frequently crushed to aggregate-sized particles and used as the base course for new pavement. In the 1980s, MnDOT and other state transportation agencies began using such recycled aggregate in the concrete course as well. But this latter practice was discontinued by the early 1990s due to mid-slab cracking observed in pavements constructed with such concrete. Using recycled concrete aggregate (RCA) in the base course has continued, however.

Newer mechanistic-empirical design methods and performance engineered mixtures have led to improved RCA mixtures. For example, concrete mixtures now have lower water-to-cement ratios. These advances present an opportunity to re-evaluate the use of recycled aggregates in concrete mixes, which aligns with two important trends: the diminishing availability of virgin, high-quality aggregate, and the growing federal emphasis on sustainable design. Using recycled concrete as aggregate fulfills the three basic principles of sustainability: performance, environmental stewardship and cost-effectiveness.

What Was Our Goal?

Researchers sought to evaluate the performance of selected sections of concrete pavement in Minnesota that had been constructed with RCA; examine field samples and lab mixes; and develop guidelines for successful use of recycled aggregate in new concrete pavements.

What Did We Do?

Researcher vibrates RCA mix samples in a box.
Investigators vibrated RCA mixes in sample boxes to prepare the mixes for mechanical analysis.

After a literature search on the use of RCA in new concrete pavements, investigators examined the following issues:

  • Historical Performance. The research team gathered and compared data on performance, ride quality and durability for 212 miles of RCA pavement and for 212 miles of regular concrete pavement in the state. Both pavement samples had been built in the same time period and had had similar traffic levels.
  • Materials and Constructability. Investigators analyzed the ride quality of two-lift (or two-layer) concrete pavement test sections built in 2010 at the MnROAD test facility, using modeling to project long-term performance based on the historical evaluation. They conducted tests on nine cores pulled from the RCA pavements and tested new mixes made with recycled aggregate from Olmsted County, Minnesota. For comparison, they tested virgin aggregates from a Mankato, Minnesota, plant and fines from a Henderson, Minnesota, site.
  • Life-Cycle Cost Analysis. The research team conducted a life-cycle cost analysis of new RCA mixes and traditional concrete mixes, comparing their performance and cost-effectiveness.
  • RCA Guidelines. Based on the historical analysis, laboratory testing and modeling, and life-cycle cost analysis, the researchers developed new guidelines for the design and construction of pavements containing RCA in concrete mixes.

What Did We Learn?

Results showed that using RCA in concrete pavements can save money and is a sustain-able practice that produces durable concrete pavement.

  • Historical Performance. Most of the existing pavement studied had not reached the terminal ride quality index of 2.5—the level that generally indicates a major pavement rehabilitation must be performed. Analysis showed that rehabilitation is required, on average, at about 27 years of service for RCA pavements and at 32 years for standard concrete pavements.
  • Materials and Constructability. Mix design can be adjusted to achieve traditional strength levels that older RCA mixes did not reach. Elimination of fines and stricter adherence to gradation specifications for concrete aggregate can achieve workable and durable mixes that are less likely to suffer excess drying shrinkage. Pavements designed in this way meet the standards of the Federal Highway Administration’s INVEST program for sustain-ability in highway construction.
  • Life-Cycle Cost Analysis. Long-life RCA pavements are more economical in cost-benefit terms than are thinner, shorter-life RCA pavements.
  • RCA Guidelines. Researchers developed specification recommendations and design guidelines for the use of RCA in new pavement construction. Trial mixes are critical, and absorption and compressive strength must be examined before use. Recycled fines are not recommended, but otherwise RCA can be used in the full range of aggregate sizes between minimum and maximum. Recycled concrete pavement may not produce enough aggregate for both pavement and base course, but acquiring extra RCA to make the base course 70 percent recycled and 30 percent virgin makes the new pavement economical and sustainable.

What’s Next?

Keeping detailed records on mix designs used and tracking mix performance over time will help MnDOT to further refine its use of recycled aggregate in concrete mixes and will provide robust data on the performance of more sophisticated RCA mixes. A research team may want to consider using lower-quality recycled concrete as a bottom lift and higher-quality recycled concrete with virgin aggregate in the top lift. Methods for managing water input with recycled aggregate to achieve proper water-to-cement ratios warrant further study.


This Technical Summary pertains to Report 2017-06, “Evaluation of Recycled Aggregates Test Section Performance,” published February 2017.

New Project: Creating a Tool to Estimate Bridge Construction Time and Costs

MnDOT recently executed a contract with WSB & Associates Inc. to begin work on a research project titled “Bridge Construction Time and Costs.”

The research project will help the State of Minnesota’s Bridge Office develop a guidance document and a tool for bridge construction time estimation to be used by MnDOT District project managers and construction staff. The tool will provide a range of production rates based on specific design criteria, being more concise based on the level of information available and will aid in evaluating the potential benefit for accelerated bridge construction (ABC) techniques.

“This research will enable District project managers, who may not have bridge knowledge or background, to complete project planning and scoping more effectively,” said Paul Johns of MnDOT’s Office of Construction and Innovative Contracting.

Mike Rief of WSB & Associates will serve as the project’s principal investigator. Johns will serve as technical liaison.

According to the initial work plan, the project is scheduled to be completed by early March 2018, and WSB & Associates will complete the following tasks:

  1. Conduct an existing practices literature review of current departments of transportation processes around the United States for bridge time and cost estimation.
  2. Review and compile actual case study bridge construction production rates and cost data for major bridge components from state-provided diaries, schedules and bridge plans.
  3. Evaluate and select the best software format and style for a bridge construction time estimation tool. Load state case study production rate data into estimation tool and run validation using bridges currently under construction.
  4. Produce a research report summarizing the literature review on best practices. Produce a user guide for bridge time estimation tool and training presentation.
  5. An optional task, if the budget allows, will include the development of a cost estimating tool. Cost estimation data would be gathered from the literature review and case study analysis during the development of bridge construction time estimation tool for efficiency.

MnROAD Breaks New Ground

In June, MnROAD, the only cold-weather accelerated pavement testing facility of its kind in North America, begins construction on its third phase of research since 1994, the first time MnDOT has rebuilt in partnership with other states.

Dozens of new experiments are planned along MnROAD’s test tracks in rural Albertville: the high-volume original Interstate-94 westbound (built in 1973), the mainline I-94 westbound (originally opened in 1994) and an adjacent low-volume road closed track.

Six states and numerous  industry partners recently formed the National Road Research Alliance (NRRA) to co-sponsor  the reconstruction.

NRRA-prioritized research will support state and local needs, including effective use of fiber-reinforced concrete, asphalt overlays of concrete pavements, cold central plant recycling and concrete partial depth repairs to name a few.

MnROAD has two 3.5 mile test segments on Interstate 94 and one closed 2.5-mile low-volume road.
MnROAD has two 3.5 mile test segments on Interstate 94 and one closed 2.5-mile low-volume road.

“The advantage of having these test  sections at MnROAD is we can take  bigger risks and push the envelope in terms of mix designs and layer thicknesses for both asphalt and concrete  layers that could not be done on a public roadway,” MnDOT Research Operations Engineer,   Dave Van Deusen said.

Forensic analysis of failed cells
Many old test cells will be dug up.  Before any reconstruction starts, however, each test section that is being reconstructed will receive a final forensic study. This allows researchers a look at each layer to see the distress that has occurred over the years—and make the final analysis of why it failed. There are always a lot of theories on the causes of what actually failed, but until the forensic is performed, there isn’t proof on what happened. These findings will help build longer-lasting pavements in the future.

The bid letting date for this year’s construction is April 28, but plans were made available for contractors on March 31. This should give the projects more exposure and generate more interest. Construction begins June 5 and continues until November 2017.

Focus Areas

  • HMA overlay and rehab of concrete and methods of enhancing compaction – States are looking for longer lasting HMA overlays of concrete. New mix designs were developed to promote long-term performance, including how reflective cracking effects can be minimized through design or other joint treatment.
  • Cold central plant recycling – Other states have used reclaimed asphalt pavement stockpiles into plant mix base course mixes (layers below the wear surface) to effectively recycle these materials in a controlled mix design. How can these layers best be used and what type of surface mix or chip seal can be placed on top?
  • Fiber reinforced concrete pavements – Nationally, states want to get a better understanding of the beneficial use of fibers in concrete pavement layers. Is it worth the cost? How can it be best used in both thin city streets and higher volume roadways? Can it be used in new construction and in concrete overlays? The research will provide the answers.
  • Long-term effects of diamond grinding – Each state has aggregates that have been used in concrete pavements that are considered reactive aggregates. Questions arise as to whether diamond grinding might accelerate deterioration in these pavements. What types of topical sealers can be used to treat the surface after the diamond grinding will also be tested.
  • Early opening strength to traffic – What effect does heavy traffic loading have on the long-term performance of full-depth concrete pavement, as well as fast–setting repairs? Test sections will be loaded by a pickup truck in one lane early enough to produce shallow ruts in the surface. In the other lane, a loaded 18-wheeler will travel over the new concrete immediately after it sets, and then sequentially every six hours up to 30 hours. The long-term effects of these early loadings will then be evaluated.
  • Optimizing the mix components for contractors – What effect do low-cementitious content mixes have on long-term performance and constructability of concrete pavements?  Two low cementitious content mixes will be studied to give agencies a better understanding of cost savings. Can these savings be achieved without significantly affecting long-term performance?
  • Compacted concrete pavement for local streets – Compacted concrete pavement is a form of roller compacted concrete that has a standard concrete pavement surface texture. The RCC industry has been successful in Michigan and Kansas constructing CCP pavement on local streets.  This research will determine if the texture that is accomplished is durable in harsh freeze-thaw climates.
  • Recycled aggregates in aggregate base and larger sub-base materials – States continue to look for effective ways to recycle materials into unbound bases. This research will add to MnROAD’s understanding of recycled bases and what seasonal strength values can be used for advanced mechanistic designs–and how they are affected by size/gradation.
  • Maintaining poor pavements– Road owners continually have less funding to maintain their roadway systems. What practices should be used for stabilizing both hot mix asphalt and Portland cement concrete roadways when longer-term repairs cannot be done due to funding levels?
  • Partial depth repair of concrete pavements – Agencies continually seek improved materials and methods for the repair of concrete pavements. In this study, up to 15 innovative concrete pavement repair materials will be evaluated on the concrete panels of the westbound I-94 bypass parallel to the MnROAD mainline.
  • Thin overlays-Experimenting with very thin overlays could provide a real benefit for a lot the roads currently out there. The premise is that with thin overlays, the ride can be smoother and the life of older roads can be extended.

“We don’t often get to reconstruct random roads these days, and when we do, we have much better specifications for low temperature cracking. By the same token, we have to maintain all those older roads built before we had performance grade binders,” said Dave Van Deusen, Materials and Road Research Lab principal engineer. “We will be doing this makeover on an original section of MnROAD built back in the 90’s.”

In one experiment, there is a head-to-head comparison of thin overlays on two sections of road. One section has a thick base and subbase under the asphalt. The other has a heavy asphalt top with very little base.

Van Deusen says if they can get an extra five years of life out of road using thin overlays, he would be pleased. Often, he admits, he is surprised by how long these “short-term” fixes actually last.

Stay up-to-date on construction by signing up for email alerts at mndot.gov/mnroad.  

Taconite byproduct reduces road wear from studded tires

In a recent project, the Alaska Department of Transportation (DOT) used a byproduct of Minnesota’s taconite mining industry for a section of the Alaska Glenn Highway.

The taconite byproduct—Mesabi sand—serves as the aggregate of a sand-seal treatment for a 4,600-foot stretch of the highway just north of Anchorage. Sand seals are an application of a sealer, usually an emulsion, immediately followed by a light covering of a fine aggregate (the sand).

“Our goal was to explore pavement preservation measures that extend pavement life and that also resist studded tire wear,” says Newton Bingham, central region materials engineer with the Alaska DOT. “Studded tires are allowed from mid-September until mid-April, and they cause rapid pavement wear.”

For the project, the Alaska DOT obtained sample pavement cores from the test area in 2014. Researchers then applied sand seals with two different hard aggregates—calcined bauxite and the Mesabi sand—to the surface of the cores to evaluate the effectiveness of each treatment.

Larry Zanko, senior research program manager of the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at the University of Minnesota Duluth, was the on-site representative for the taconite sand analysis. NRRI focuses on strategies to recover and utilize mineral-resource-based byproducts such as taconite and find potential beneficial end-uses for them.

“Taconite is one of the hardest natural aggregates,” he says. “Minnesota’s taconite mining industry generates tens of millions of tons of byproduct materials every year that could be used as pavement aggregate. Friction aggregates could be a higher-value niche for the industry.”

Testing of the sand-seals showed similar wear resistance for both types of aggregates. “We chose taconite sand since it is available from Minnesota as an industrial byproduct, whereas calcined bauxite sand has to be imported from nations on the Pacific Rim and costs more due to shipping,” Bingham says.

The Alaska DOT reports good performance to date on Glenn Highway and is funding ongoing pavement wear measurement.

NRRI researchers are also studying the use of taconite for other pavement applications. Funded by MnDOT, Zanko’s team developed (and later patented) a taconite compound for repairing pavement cracks and patching potholes (see an article the September 2016 Catalyst). The long-lasting patches reduce maintenance costs and traffic disruption. In continuing work funded by the Minnesota Local Road Research Board, researchers will refine the repair compound and develop and field-test a low-cost mechanized system for pavement and pothole repairs.

Thicker may not equal stronger when building concrete roadways

Transportation agencies have long placed high importance on the thickness of their concrete roadways, making it a major focus of control and inspection during construction. While it is commonly believed thicker concrete pavements last longer, there is little data to support this claim.

“One big reason for the lack of data on the relationship between concrete pavement thickness and performance is the destructive nature of these measurements,” says Lev Khazanovich, a former professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geo- Engineering. “Concrete thickness is typically assessed by coring—a destructive, expensive, and time-consuming test that only offers widely spaced measurements of thickness.”

In a MnDOT-funded study, U of M researchers set out to fill this knowledge void by leveraging recent advances in the nondestructive testing of pavements that allow for large-scale, rapid collection of reliable measurements for pavement thickness and strength. They conducted four evaluations on three roadways in Minnesota using ultrasonic technology to collect more than 8,000 measurements in a dense survey pattern along with a continuous survey of observable distress.

“We found that both pavement thickness and stress measurements are highly variable, with a half-inch of variation in thickness about every 10 feet,” Khazanovich says. “Interestingly, three of the four surveys averaged less than design thickness, which is contrary to typical accounts of contractors building slightly thicker slabs in order to avoid compensation deductions.”

Data analysis showed that exceeding design thickness did not seem to increase or decrease pavement performance. However, a measurement of pavement strength and quality known as “shear wave velocity” did produce valuable findings. “A drop in the shear wave velocity strength measurement corresponded to an increase in observable pavement distresses such as cracking and crumbling,” Khazanovich explains. “This was especially apparent when we were able to easily identify locations of construction changes, where significant changes in shear wave velocity matched up with observable distress.”

The results of this study illustrate the importance of material quality control and uniformity during construction, since alterations in pavement strength and quality may significantly influence pavement performance. In addition, researchers say that despite inconclusive thickness results, it is still important that pavement has significant thickness to carry its intended traffic load over its service life. Finally, the study demonstrates that new methods of ultrasonic shear wave velocity testing are useful for identifying changes in construction and design that could lead to higher rates of pavement distress.

Partner States Get First Look at Minnesota Road Experiment

Walking along a half-mile segment of Co. Rd. 8 near Milaca last month, materials engineers from around the country got a first look at a shared test site for pavement preservation.

Nearly 60 one-tenth mile sections of Co. Rd. 8 and nearby Hwy 169 were recently treated with various combinations of fog seals, chip seals, crack seals, scrub seals and microsurfacing and a number of thin overlays. Data will be collected from these experimental test roads for three years and compared with the results of a similar experiment in Alabama, where the same test sections were also built on a low- and high-volume roadway, to see which techniques are the most effective for preserving road life.

“Evaluating pavement performance in both northern and southern climates will provide cost-effective solutions that can be implemented nationwide,” said Ben Worel, MnROAD operations engineer.

Photo of Barry Paye, Wisconsin DOT chief materials engineer; and Tim Clyne, MnDOT Metro District materials engineer.

From left, Barry Paye, Wisconsin DOT chief materials engineer, and Tim Clyne, MnDOT Metro District materials engineer, participate in a discussion about future road research needs. Photo by Shannon Fiecke

Nineteen states, which are co-funding the study through MnDOT’s road research facility (MnROAD), were in town Oct. 26-27 for a joint meeting with the National Center for Asphalt Technology in Auburn, Ala. In addition to touring test sections built this summer near Milaca and at MnROAD’s permanent test track in Albertville, the group reviewed preliminary research results and discussed ideas for new experiments.

MnROAD began two joint research efforts with NCAT last year to advance pavement engineering issues that affect both warm and cold climates. In addition to determining the life-extending benefits of different pavement preservation techniques, the partnership has also built test cells to evaluate which asphalt cracking prediction tests best predict future pavement performance. This second study will help state DOTs improve the quality of asphalt mixes, so roads hold up better through harsh winters, leading to less thermal cracking and fewer potholes.

Click here to learn more about the MnROAD-NCAT partnership.