Category Archives: Materials and Construction

CTS fall research seminars begin September 26

This fall, CTS will offer five research seminars on transportation topics ranging from resilient communities to asphalt at low temperatures.

Seminars will be held every Thursday from September 26 through October 31 (except Oct. 17) on the U of M campus in Minneapolis. You can either attend in person or watch the live webcast of each seminar. Additional information is available on the CTS website.

Seminar schedule:

Geotextile research at MnROAD

Geotextiles are synthetic polymer materials used to improve the performance of roadways. As discussed in this 2011 technical summary, geotextiles facilitate filtration and water drainage, improve the integrity and functioning of base materials, and provide a stable construction platform over soft or wet soils. These improvements can benefit both the cost-efficiency and longevity of pavements.

Geosynthetic materials have been used throughout Minnesota, and can be found in both reconstructed and new roadway projects. The use of geotextiles as a separator layer under concrete overlays, however, has had limited documentation in Minnesota and other cold weather climates. MnROAD‘s recent dedication of several test cells to this purpose will determine the performance of this application of geotextiles, with the goal of improving its applications on other Minnesota roadways.

The new test sections, designated as Cells 140 and 240, consist of a very thin, 3-inch concrete overlay over an existing 7-inch concrete pavement constructed 20 years ago. Some unique features of the design include the use of a fiber-reinforced concrete mix, two different thicknesses of the nonwoven geotextile, and the use of a special type of glue, rather than nails, to fasten it to the existing concrete before paving.

The fabric and fiber used in the concrete mix were supplied through a public-private partnership with Propex Geotextile Systems. The results of this study, along with other unbonded overlays constructed at MnROAD and around the country, will be incorporated into a new national pooled fund project — TPF 5-(269) — led by MnDOT. This project will develop an improved mechanistic design procedure for unbonded overlays.

A second application being demonstrated at MnROAD is the use of a geosynthetic drainage system under several dowel bar baskets in new concrete pavement test section. Minnesota has historically used a dense-graded base layer under concrete pavements to provide a stable foundation and construction platform. However, this material drains very slowly, and traps moisture within the joints, leading eventually to significant distress (See Effect of Drainage on the Performance of Concrete Pavement Joints in Minnesota.) This application will compare the use of the geotextile drainage material placed under both sealed and unsealed joints, as well as a control joint without the drainage material.

Permeable pavements could protect the environment, save taxpayer dollars

KSTP has a nice story today on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s ongoing research into permeable pavements at the MnROAD research facility. (The video isn’t embeddable on WordPress, but you can find a direct link here.)

Permeable pavements (also known as “porous” or “pervious” pavements) are designed to allow water to pass through roadways and infiltrate directly into the underlying aggregate and soil. Their primary effect is to reduce stormwater runoff, which carries harmful materials from the road’s surface out into waterways. Of course, reducing runoff also mitigates the need for the kinds of costly drainage structures that are normally required to manage stormwater. Permeable pavements also reduce noise and mitigate the potential for hydroplaning, among other documented benefits.

These types of pavements are already used in some areas in Minnesota — mainly in parking lots and city streets — and MnDOT has been studying their potential use for full-depth roadway pavements. As the video indicates, so far the results have been encouraging. (You can read more about MnDOT’s ongoing research on the MnROAD website.)

As a side note, the amount of water these pavements can absorb is quite impressive. Last month, we posted a new Local Road Research Board video on stormwater management. In one scene, a public works crew dumps what appears to be several hundred gallons of water onto a permeable pavement and watch as it disappears almost instantaneously. (Watch the clip here.)

Here are the results of some recent permeable pavement studies here in Minnesota:

Construction kickoff at MnROAD, the state’s high-tech road research facility (updated)

*Editor’s note: This article was updated 6/11/13 with additional information provided by MnROAD engineers.

You’re probably aware that MnDOT recently kicked off its 2013 construction season, comprising $1.1 billion in new transportation investments in more than 300 projects across Minnesota. What you might not know is that another MnDOT construction season has begun at MnROAD, the department’s unique, high-tech pavement test facility located near Albertville, Minn.

MnROAD serves as a proving ground for innovative pavement designs, equipment and construction techniques that help transportation professionals all over the world strengthen roads, cut costs, and reduce construction times. It has a two test tracks — a 3.5- mile mainline carrying “live” traffic and a 2.5-mile closed-loop, low-volume roadway — that are used for state, university and private industry pavement research. These tracks are made up of dozens of individual “cells,” which are unique stretches of pavement each representing several research projects.

This summer, several test cells are being torn up and repaved. Cell 40, a 20-year-old concrete pavement, will receive an innovative 3-inch thick unbonded concrete overlay.  To increase the capacity of such a thin overlay , a fiber-reinforced concrete mixture will be used.  To separate and cushion the thin overlay from the existing concrete, two different thicknesses of nonwoven geotextile fabric will be laid.  This will help MnROAD researchers to understand how much cushioning is needed, as well as the drainage capacity of each fabric.  Fabric interlayers are gaining popularity as an alternative to asphalt interlayers.

Thin concrete overlays of asphalt, commonly known as whitetoppings, will also be used to reconstruct Cells 60-63.  Similar to Cell 40, fiber reinforced concrete will be used to test its benefit in supplementing load transfer at joints and across cracks.  Pavement built with this material will be strengthened by the fiber, prolonging a road’s lifespan, and potentially allowing for thinner concrete pavements.  Findings from Cells 40 and 60-63 support the ongoing development of improved design procedures for concrete overlays.

Cell 13 reconstruction is using recycled concrete aggregate provided by the contractor’s stockpile from other pavement projects. The concrete from the stockpile will be included in the concrete mix — a new practice to understand how to better recycle paving materials and ascertain the cost and benefits of this practice. Cell 13 will also be testing two innovative types of preformed joint sealants, and several joints drained by geotextile drains.

Construction updates are available on the MnROAD website as well as information regarding current research projects.

Image from MnROAD's 2013 construction kickoff.
Removing concrete in MnROAD Cell 13.

‘Three Ways to Cook a Pothole’

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.”

See also:

New flatwork specs ensure higher quality for local concrete projects

Placing concrete streets, sidewalks, curbs, and gutters just got a lot easier for cities and counties—and the inspectors, engineers, and contractors who work on them in Minnesota. Locals no longer have to adapt to the rigorous Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) specifications for trunk highways.

The Minnesota Concrete Flatwork Specifications for Local Government Agencies tech memo was issued by the MnDOT Office of State Aid in 2012. These specifications guide all State-Aid-funded local concrete projects and should reduce the confusion and misunderstanding that arose when engineers and contractors used different interpretations of the highway specifications.

The new specs require two people to hold a current ACI Concrete Flatwork Technician certification, with at least one on-site for all concrete pours.

Read more in the May 2013 issue of the TERRA E-News

CTS Research Conference videos and presentations now available

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.

New video showcases Minnesota city and county stormwater management techniques

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Local Road Research Board released this new video showcasing best practices for local stormwater management. Although it’s primarily a training video for engineers and other public works professionals, non-transportation geeks might also enjoy learning about some of the interesting, innovative techniques being employed in cities and counties across the state.

Those who’d prefer not to watch the whole 14-minute video can skip ahead by clicking on these highlights:

  1. Woodbury’s stormwater ponds (1:52)
  2. Washington County’s bioretention gardens (2:56)
  3. “Green roof” bioretention method (4:02)
  4. Maplewood’s underground detention system (4:39)
  5. Greenway stormwater project in Minneapolis (6:03)
  6. Minnetonka’s hydrodynamic separator treatment system (7:47)
  7. Arden Hills’ infiltration (swales) system (8:26)
  8. Shoreview’s permeable pavements (9:52)
  9. Ramsey-Washington permeable pavement project (11:11)
  10. Tree boxes/trenches in Ramsey-Washington (12:06)

Overall, the video gives you an appreciation for the incredible amount of planning and work that goes into managing stormwater runoff — a task that’s critical to protecting the state’s waterways from pollution (but which many people no doubt take for granted). For those who want to learn more, the best management practices showcased here are examined in greater detail in a recent LRRB report, “Decision Tree for Stormwater BMPs,” which is available for free on the LRRB and MnDOT Research Sevices websites:

Portable weigh-in-motion system demonstration

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.

Research partnerships create better pavements

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.

See also:

2013 Research Partnership Award winners

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)