Concrete Design Software Easier-to-Use, Capabilities Expand

MnDOT has upgraded its concrete pavement design software, MnPAVE-Rigid, to make it easier to use and allow more design inputs.

“In the original software, we only allowed one aggregate base thickness and one aggregate type. MnPAVE-Rigid 2.0 allows two base thicknesses and three base types,” said Tim Andersen, Pavement Design Engineer, MnDOT Office of Materials and Road Research.

MnDOT hired American Engineering Testing to update the design software as part of a research project advised by Andersen and funded by the state research program.

Background

MnDOT developed its own pavement design software, MnPAVE-Rigid, in 2014 that incorporated the methodology of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Mechanistic–Empirical Pavement Design Guide (MEPDG). Minnesota’s pavement designers use MnPAVE to apply AASHTO’s most sophisticated design principles for both rigid and flexible pavement, focusing on mechanical properties of the pavement and prevention of early cracking and other distress.

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AASHTO’s mechanistic–empirical (M–E) design methods entail hundreds of inputs, each a mechanical parameter, a measure of site-specific characteristics or a design goal. To simplify the input selection process, AASHTO’s M–E design software offers various input levels to reduce the data gathering and input burden. The most basic level uses default values for most of the inputs based on national averages, but still requires dozens of inputs for the number of pavement layers, traffic expectations, climate and other features.

MnPAVE-Rigid for concrete pavement design reduced that number of inputs to nine, operating like a module of AASHTO’s M–E software. MnPAVE-Rigid inputs work with a set of default values for jointed plain concrete selected by the MnDOT Office of Materials and Road Research in 2014, as described in the MnPAVE-Rigid 1.0 report.

“Many states ignored the challenge of adopting AASHTO M–E or they bought an AASHTO
software license. MnDOT used its accumulated knowledge of AASHTO M–E and Minnesota conditions to build MnPAVE-Rigid, and so can account for its M–E design results firsthand,” said Derek Tompkins, Principal Civil Engineer, American Engineering Testing, Inc.

Since implementing MnPAVE-Rigid 1.0, MnDOT has gathered feedback from users about their experience with the software. In the current project, MnDOT wanted to address this feedback, and expand and improve the original software by exploring additional options with some of the default parameters for concrete pavements.

What Was Our Goal?

The goal of this project was to update MnPAVE-Rigid 1.0 by expanding the range of inputs for traffic, subgrade type, base type and thickness, and to make the user interface more accessible.

What Did We Implement?

MnPAVE-Rigid 2.0 allows users to enter 11 inputs, including inputs related to specific traffic levels and aggregate base types; calculate the new design thickness; and print a project report that summarizes the inputs and the recommended thickness. The upgraded software is more user-friendly, and MnDOT can maintain or make future upgrades to the source code.

How Did We Do It?

Researchers met with the Technical Advisory Panel and reviewed the list of software improvements requested by pavement designers and the MnDOT Office of Materials and Road Research.

Because every change to an input affects a large number of default input variables, investigators ran over 21,000 simulations to analyze the impact of changes made to inputs for base type, base thickness, subgrade type and traffic level. The research team also modified the traffic input calculator to allow designers to enter traffic values from MnDOT’s weigh-in-motion and traffic counting data. The calculator runs input traffic data in software simulations and assigns the input an appropriate axle value for design.

MnPAVE-Rigid 1.0 ran designs based on Class 5 aggregate base over a subgrade like clay loam. Other aggregate types were added to simulations to determine how the software responds to these changes. Investigation also explored the addition of subgrade material options in design simulations.

The code developer modified elements of the advanced inputs tab and PDF report generation features to improve performance for software users, and rebuilt the software in JavaScript 2.0 code, including an installer for use with Windows software.

What Was the Impact?

MnPAVE-Rigid 2.0 is more user-friendly. Its tabs better match designer needs, and the software offers a design report PDF file for export. Instead of selecting from limited options for traffic volumes (default, normal and heavy), users can now input traffic data that the software will categorize. Designers can input Class 5 aggregate, Class 5Q (a higher quality aggregate with fewer fines) and open graded aggregate (no fines). Users can also choose 4-inch or 12-inch aggregate base thicknesses. An additional subgrade option was not included, as simulations indicated a sand subgrade input did not discernibly impact structural thickness outputs.

The AASHTO M–E software is expensive, and agencies that use it have to work closely with consultants to receive training and to explore or modify the code. MnDOT owns and manages the source code for MnPAVE-Rigid 2.0, can keep it secure, and can continue to change and upgrade it internally for Windows and Linux platforms.

What’s Next?

The updated MnPAVE-Rigid is now available online. Presentations about the software upgrades will be made at meetings for materials and soils engineers through the fall of 2018.

Still underway is an effort to further incorporate recycled material properties into MnPAVE Flexible, the design software for asphalt pavement.

This Implementation Summary pertains to Report 2018-17, “MnPAVE-Rigid 2.0,” published May 2018.

Reporting Driver Intrusions in Work Zones

Data from a new system for tracking work zone intrusions may be used to change work zone design and policies, reducing the risk of injury and death from intrusion crashes.

MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board engaged researchers to develop a user-friendly system that allows highway crews to quickly record instances of motorists’ intrusion into work zones, using a laptop, tablet or paper.

“This collaboration resulted in a fast, efficient and easy-to-use system because crews and supervisors let us know throughout the process exactly what they needed to consistently report work zone intrusions,” said Nichole Morris, Director, University of Minnesota HumanFIRST Laboratory.

What Was Our Goal?

The goal of this research project was to develop and test an efficient, comprehensive and user-friendly reporting system for intrusions into work zones. It was essential for the system to be accepted by highway workers. The information collected from the system, which was modeled after the existing MNCrash report, would then be used to examine risk factors to reduce intrusions and danger to workers. Safety data would be relayed back to workers and to MnDOT managers, providing an empirical basis for design changes to work zones, as well as future policy recommendations to the state government.

“To reduce work zone intrusions and make work zones safer, we need to track and analyze the intrusions. This reporting system will generate the data we need to make smart changes and possibly to influence legislative policy,” said Todd Haglin, Emergency Management and Safety Manager, MnDOT Office of Administration.

What Did We Do?

To design a usable system for reporting work zone intrusions, research designers had to:

  • Understand the characteristics of the typical system user (in this case, the work zone supervisors and crew).
  • Develop common or typical intrusion scenarios to realistically test the system.
  • Conduct iterative testing with typical users (supervisors and crew members) and incorporate revisions based on test results.

The research team interviewed work zone supervisors from rural and urban truck station locations across the state: in Baxter, St. Cloud and Duluth and at Cedar Avenue near Minneapolis-St. Paul. Researchers sought to learn what crews and supervisors considered an intrusion and what they thought should be reportable elements of the intrusion, such as the work zone layout, weather, location, time, visibility, road conditions and maneuvers of the intruding vehicle.

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In a common type of close call, the dark car shown here fails to merge until it is too close to the work zone, forcing the silver car out of its lane.

Researchers used information gathered from the interviews to develop four typical intrusion scenarios—which were reviewed and revised by MnDOT supervisors—and used these scenarios to test the prototype reporting interface. Then they conducted usability tests with these scenarios and with actual intrusions that crews had experienced. Users suggested changes to the report format throughout the process.

Crews and supervisors collaborated with researchers during three rounds of testing, revising the reporting interface after each round. An online beta version had been supplemented with a paper version. Both versions were revised through this iterative design process.

What Did We Learn?

This design approach allowed the research team to produce a report interface incorporating the very specific needs of the work zone crews and supervisors:

  • The third major revision split the report decision flow into two options—a shorter report and a comprehensive report—based on whether the intrusion presented a risk to the crew. Without this revision, intrusions that workers considered minor were not likely to be reported.
  • Researchers surveyed users of the system with each revision. Supervisors liked the drop-down menus, the comprehensiveness of the system and its ease of use. They rated the final revision as good in terms of usability, ease of use and time to completion (five to six minutes on average).
  • The final design version was tested using a laptop, tablet and paper. Multiple reporting options made it more likely that workers and supervisors would quickly report data about a work zone intrusion before details were forgotten.

What’s Next?

Supervisors and workers involved in the design process gave high marks to the final version of the reporting system. The design is considered complete. Researchers had created the interface as a free-standing program, using the University of Minnesota’s digital resources to build and evaluate their design. For this reporting system to be made  vailable for use by MnDOT and other agency workers, MnDOT must engage MNIT, the state’s information technology professionals, to determine where the system will reside and to integrate it into the state’s existing computer platform.

This post pertains to Report 2018-09, “Work Zone Intrusion Report Interface Design,” published in February 2018. 

MnDOT is developing other initiatives to improve work zone safety,  including a personal warning sensor for construction workers. Search for “work zone” research projects here.

New research to explore innovative solutions to aging pavement infrastructure

New solutions are urgently needed to address Minnesota’s aging pavement infrastructure since current materials and technologies can’t keep up with the rate of deterioration and limited funding.  MnDOT recently entered into a contract with the University of Minnesota to further explore new materials and technologies – including taconite and Graphite Nanoplatelets (GNP) – that could offer cost-effective solutions for longer-lasting pavement.

Background

The university has investigated the use of taconite aggregates for more than a decade (see ongoing and completed research), and started investigating GNP-reinforced asphalt materials more than three years ago (see recently completed research). Both materials present very unique properties that can be used to better build and maintain asphalt pavements.

This research project will focus on two applications with significant potential in the pavement area:

  • Early detection and repair of cracking by developing a novel asphalt material in which GNP materials, taconite concentrate, and conventional asphalt binders are combined for damage sensing and healing. The material damage will be assessed by measuring the electrical resistance, while the damage healing will be achieved by applying microwave to the material.
  • Thermal enhancement of tack coat bonding between asphalt overlay lifts, using GNP and taconite concentrate and microwave heating. Poor bonding can result in many different pavement distresses that decrease the pavement structural strength and life, ranging from top-down cracking, potholes and fatigue failure.

Improving pavement durability

The latest data shows that 15 percent of roads in Minnesota are in poor condition, at a cost to each motorist $480 per year. Low-temperature cracking is one of the main causes of pavement failure in Minnesota. Studies have shown that early detection of damage and cracking and timely repair is essential for extending the lifespan of the pavements.

Each dollar spent in the early-stage of pavement life could eliminate or delay $6 to $10 in future rehabilitation or reconstruction costs.

A series of recent studies funded by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) and MnDOT showed that the GNP-modified asphalt binders and mixtures exhibit a significant improvement in both mechanical and compaction properties. The combination of the previous research and the proposed research will fully explore the properties of GNP-taconite modified asphalt binders and mixtures as a multi-functional pavement material, which will address various needs of MNDOT, including high fracture resistance, efficient compaction process, and cost-effective pavement preservation operations. By addressing these needs, the result of this research will lead to an innovative and efficient means to improve the long-term durability and resilience of asphalt pavements in Minnesota.

 Project scope

The two-year research project aims to explore the damage sensing and healing capability of asphalt binders and mixtures modified by GNP and taconite concentrates. The essential idea is to combine GNP and taconite concentrates with asphalt binders to make the final asphalt products electrical conductive. By measuring the change of electrical resistance, researchers will be able to determine the damage extent. When the damage extent reaches a certain level, the University will apply microwave to the pavement to generate heat, which will heal the cracks through viscous flow of warm asphalt binder. In addition, the thermal bonding capabilities of a novel tack coat material also modified with GNP and taconite concentrate will be investigated. The research will consist of four parts:

  1. Electrical conductivity tests on GNP-taconite modified asphalt binders and mixtures
  2. Modeling of relationship between electrical resistance and damage extent
  3. Investigation of self-healing capability through microwave
  4. Investigation of a microwave-based tack coat system to enhance thermal bonding in asphalt paving

Watch for new developments on this project here.  Other Minnesota pavement research can be found at MnDOT.gov/research.

 

Ultrasonic Testing Method Improves Corrosion Detection on Steel Bridges

A research implementation project completed by MnDOT’s Bridge Office shows that phased array ultrasonic 3-D scanning more accurately detects and measures corrosion on steel bridges than traditional methods. More accurate data will allow engineers to correctly evaluate bridge conditions, calculate safe load capacity and make better maintenance recommendations.

“The Phased Array Ultrasonic Testing System (PAUT) can acquire thousands more data points than can traditional methods in the same amount of time, which makes PAUT technology very useful,” said William Lee Nelson, a MnDOT bridge engineering specialist.

What Was the Need?

Corrosion on steel bridges results from exposure to environmental elements and deicing chemicals, and can lead to loss of steel thickness, with subsequent functional and structural issues. Regular inspection to detect and monitor fatigue cracking and other structural damage is critical to extending bridge performance and ensuring traveler safety on the approximately 13,000 bridges in Minnesota. While MnDOT is committed to improving its infrastructure, increasing costs of bridge inspections and maintenance have prompted the agency to seek innovative methods for performing inspections.

Bridge inspectors have been using conventional ultrasonic devices and hand measuring techniques to evaluate corrosion for many years. However, it is not always possible to obtain complete and accurate data using those methods. Accurate steel thickness and corrosion mapping data is critical for bridge engineers to correctly evaluate bridge conditions, calculate safe load capacity and make better maintenance decisions. Without quality data, bridge engineers may make recommendations that can lead to unnecessary and expensive repairs.

Newer versions of ultrasonic devices—such as the phased array ultrasonic testing (PAUT) system—use 3-D scanning technology to produce enhanced images and data. One of the advantages of PAUT devices over conventional ultrasonic models is that they provide thousands more data points, allowing engineers to more accurately measure steel thickness and predict maintenance issues and costs. Another benefit of PAUT devices is that they collect corrosion mapping data much more quickly than conventional ultrasonic devices, which improves safety and efficiency by reducing the time bridge inspectors spend on the bridge.

What Was Our Goal?

The goal of this project was to provide bridge inspectors with training and equipment to collect high-quality data by using the 3-D scanning technology of a PAUT system. The enhanced data would enable bridge engineers to make more accurate assessments of bridge condition and more cost-effective maintenance recommendations.

What Did We Implement?

Investigators reviewed the literature on projects evaluating PAUT systems and identified several studies that assessed these devices favorably. They selected an Olympus OmniScan SX PAUT system for use in this project and used the collected information from the literature review as a point of reference for their field observation testing.

How Did We Do It?

After MnDOT bridge inspectors were trained in the OmniScan PAUT system, they used it to obtain corrosion mapping data for four steel structures in Minnesota: the Sorlie Bridge (Polk County), the Baudette Bridge (Baudette), a high mast light (Duluth) and a test specimen from the Silverdale Bridge (Grant). The project team then compared the PAUT system data with data obtained from traditional (single-beam) ultrasonic methods and traditional field measuring methods.

What Was the Impact?

The comparison showed that the PAUT equipment provided more complete and more accurate corrosion mapping data than did the single-beam ultrasonic and traditional field measuring methods. Based on the findings of the literature review, field observations and the data collected, the project team noted other benefits of using PAUT technology for bridge inspection, including:

  • Accurately determines the thickness and section of structural steel members, allowing engineers to make better recommendations on load capacity.
  • Establishes baseline measurements to better predict maintenance costs.
  • Provides high-quality data that allows engineers to make better repair and maintenance recommendations to avoid unnecessary and costly repairs.
  • Collects inspection data quickly, resulting in time and cost savings for bridge inspectors in the field.

What’s Next?

MnDOT will begin deploying the PAUT system to conduct corrosion inspection of steel bridges and ancillary structures throughout Minnesota. MnDOT will also update the nondestructive testing content in MnDOT’s Bridge and Structure Inspection Program Manual.

Additionally, MnDOT plans to develop and write inspection procedures for the PAUT system and to distribute information about PAUT deployment, targeting MnDOT bridge inspection units, bridge engineers and bridge owners.

This post pertains to Report 2017-33, “Phased Array Ultrasonic Steel Corrosion Mapping for Bridges and Ancillary Structures.”

Salt Brine Study Shows Truck Traffic Drives Deicer Effectiveness

Truck traffic significantly improves deicer performance, deicers perform poorly below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, and brine is spread more by traffic spray and snowplow throw than by storm runoff.  This is the outcome of multi-year tests performed in the snow-covered parking lots of two Twin Cities entertainment destinations.

“There is notable airborne removal of deicers from road spray by vehicles and under high wind conditions. For the deicing materials MnDOT uses, little melt is observed below 10 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Tom Peters, Maintenance Research and Training Engineer, MnDOT Office of Maintenance.

MnDOT has conducted several research projects to better understand the performance of both deicing and anti-icing materials (applied to the roadway before a storm to prevent or mitigate ice buildup). Two previous studies evaluated solid materials and liquid brine. In Phase I researchers examined over 50 deicer and anti-icing compounds and blends. They determined that ice melt capacity correlates closely with application temperature, which is the principal factor in effectiveness. Rock salt offers greater ice melt capability, but liquid deicers adhere better to roadways and cause less corrosion and environmental damage to road and bridge environments.

In Phase II, researchers studied deicer performance in the field and considered how traffic levels, truck volumes, weather, pavement type and other factors affect performance. Research showed that deicers work better at warmer temperatures, with little effectiveness below about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Truck traffic significantly improved deicer performance, contributing to wider and quicker melts. Chlorides were swept off bridge decks by snowplowing, and deicing effectiveness diminished as truck speed rose.

However, severe weather hampered research in Phase II; the winter of 2013-2014 was the coldest experienced in Minnesota in over 30 years. The severity of winter conditions impeded the temperature study of deicer performance and snowplow performance, leaving the research team and MnDOT interested in further study.

What Was Our Goal?

This study aimed to continue the work of Phase II in more representative winter conditions. Researchers evaluated deicer effectiveness, plowing effectiveness, anti-icer persistence in traffic and drains, and pavement shedding of deicers.

What Did We Do?

During the winters of 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, both of which were mild with below-average snow accumulations, the research team followed closely the methods used in Phase II.

Deicers were studied at two facilities in Shakopee, Minnesota. One facility included nine 900-foot lanes on which plow trucks spread deicers at highway speeds. The other facility featured four 500-foot lanes, where deicers were spread by hand in 100-foot segments. Investigators monitored weather and evaluated deicer performance with photography and infrared thermography.

Snowplowing by MnDOT Metro District plow operators was conducted at the two Shakopee facilities as well, at operating speeds of up to 30 mph. Researchers documented performance of various plow configurations in various truck combinations with on-site observation, handheld photography and time-lapse photography.

Anti-icing, in which deicer brines are applied to dry pavement to prevent ice formation, was conducted on an elevated section of U.S. Highway 169 near Mankato that experienced actual traffic. Investigators recorded application rate, time, temperature, precipitation and traffic, as well as deicer flow and concentration in storm drainage runoff over time.

A researcher mixes deicers in bags before spreading by hand at the test site.
A researcher mixes deicers in bags before spreading by hand at the test site.

Researchers studied pavement shedding of deicers in a lab in terms of storm runoff flow and anti-icer concentration in drainage from artificially induced precipitation. Deicers were applied in brine form, dried, chilled and held at temperatures below the freezing point of water and within the range of effective ice melt temperatures.

What Did We Learn?

Research confirmed that deicer performance varies with temperature, with little benefit from rock salt at 10 degrees Fahrenheit or colder unless the pavement is exposed to sunlight. Deicer accumulated in drains at substantially lower levels than roadway applications suggest regardless of traffic conditions, confirming observations that the majority of deicer loss occurs from displacement by traffic and snowplows.

Plow results were fairly uniform across all lanes and along lane lengths for a given plow type, suggesting truck, plow and driver combinations performed uniformly at each track. At higher speeds, snow rises higher in the curvature of the plow, and snow casts more broadly off plow ends and distributes to greater distances.

“Truck traffic makes a huge difference on deicer performance. If two or three dump trucks that aren’t spreading but have weight in them follow a salt truck, salt use might be cut by two-thirds,” said Stephen Druschel, Professor, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Department of Civil Engineering.

Deicers and anti-icers showed wider and quicker melting capability with traffic, especially by trucks, than without. Prewetting offered no significant observable benefit under most conditions, contrary to reports from snowplow drivers in field operations, unless snow was dry; then significant benefits were observed.

Asphalt and concrete pavements shed salinity at high levels initially and at declining levels at about 0.3 inch precipitation. The type of pavement involved had no apparent effect on deicer runoff.

What’s Next?

The impact of truck traffic on deicer performance is significant and needs to be widely communicated. Reports that prewetting improves deicer adhesion in windy conditions and speeds the initiation of ice melt may warrant further review. Evaluation of atmospheric and off-roadway drainage may help quantify traffic-induced brine spray and plow throw.

View Dr. Stephen Druscel’s YouTube presentation, Winter Plowing and Deicing: Saving Money, Salt and Labor by Distinguishing Best Practices.

This post pertains to Report 2017-45, “Salt Brine Blending to Optimize Deicing and Anti- cing Performance and Cost Effectiveness: Phase III.” The full report and appendices can be accessed at mndot.gov/research/reports/2017/201745.pdf and mndot.gov/research/reports/2017/201745B.pdf.

Affordable Bridge Girder End Repair Method Restores Concrete Beams

By load testing part of a bridge that was removed over Nine Mile Creek, researchers have proven that an innovative and cost-effective method for repairing damaged bridge girders restores them to their original strength.

The findings will help MnDOT and other transportation agencies avoid lengthy traffic closures and more costly techniques when repairing other bridges.

“This innovative method works remarkably well. The amount of damage the crew repaired was pretty extensive. In the end, the strength of the repaired damaged girders was slightly more than the strength of the undamaged girders,” said Carol Shield, Professor, University of Minnesota Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering.

Background

The salting of bridge and roadways during Minnesota winters can create highly corrosive conditions that damage bridges. Such was the case with the Highway 169 Nine Mile Creek Bridge near Edina and Minnetonka, where leaking expansion joints caused corrosion to elements responsible for the strength of bridge girders: shear reinforcement, prestressing strands, and the surrounding concrete.

During a 2013 repair, crews encountered two locations of severe beam deterioration. To repair these areas, MnDOT used a novel method developed in Michigan that involved removing deteriorated concrete and cleaning the area, placing steel reinforcement cages around the damaged beam ends and then encasing the beam ends with concrete. The repair concrete was a specific form of concrete placement called “shotcrete”—a mix of sand, aggregate and cement that is applied with a hose that is wetted at the nozzle before the mixture is sprayed at high velocity onto the repair surface. When the desired thickness of the concrete placement is reached, the placement is troweled and shaped to finish to the desired cross section. The beam end repairs were made in October 2013 and allowed the bridge to continue its function to the public.

MnDOT was able to make the repairs without traffic interruption.

Several years later, the bridge was scheduled for replacement. The repaired girder ends appeared to be in good condition, but the repair technique had not been studied for strength. The bridge replacement presented MnDOT with an excellent opportunity to evaluate the repair method for use on other damaged girder ends.

What Was Our Goal?

When the southbound lanes of the bridge were taken out of service in spring 2017, four prestressed girders were removed from the structure and brought to the University of Minnesota’s Theodore V. Galambos Structural Engineering Laboratory for testing.

Researchers examined and tested the beams to evaluate the effectiveness of the reinforced shotcrete repair method.

“Two of the girders have ends that were repaired by MnDOT, and two girders have ends that never needed to be repaired,” Shield said. “We [tested] the four girders and [compared] their strengths to determine if the repair actually returned the girders to the strength they had prior to the corrosion-related damage.”

The fact that researchers tested good girders alongside repaired girders gave MnDOT a high level of confidence, said Paul Pilarski, Metro North Regional Bridge Construction Engineer, MnDOT Bridge Office.

Bridge girder ends can be repaired for only $5,000 to $10,000, using this new method.

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Repaired and unrepaired girders were tested to failure in a laboratory. This repaired beam end remains firmly connected to the beam, even after the girder was crushed.

What Did We Learn?

All repairs had been done in field conditions that have the potential to adversely affect the results. But when the beams broke in the lab, the shotcrete repair did not separate from the bonding surface. The repaired reinforced concrete beam ends were found to be at least as strong as similar beams that were in good condition and had not needed repair. The initial repair methods and subsequent testing of the prestressed beam ends are demonstrated in a video created by the research team (testing starts at 3:30 min).

Using this method, severely deteriorated beam ends can be repaired with reinforcement cages and shotcrete for $5,000 to $10,000. The alternative to this type of repair involves constructing a new beam, closing traffic, removing the bridge deck over the damaged beam as well as the beam itself, and recasting the bridge deck and barrier—an intrusive replacement that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and more than a month of bridge lane closures.

What’s Next?

Results have been presented internally at MnDOT, at state and Midwest conferences in late 2017, and at the National Bridge Preservation Partnership Conference in April 2018. Presentations have impressed transportation engineers from around the country and have increased confidence in dealing with aging infrastructure. MnDOT will continue to refine repair methods with the shotcrete treatment based on best industry practices, and will continue to use the beam end repair method if similar conditions are encountered in the state.

This post pertains to Report 2018-07, “BR27568—Experimental Shear Capacity Comparison Between Repaired and Unrepaired Girder Ends,” published February 2018. More information can be found on the project page. (Part of this article was adapted from an October 2017 article by the Center for Transportation Studies.) 

 

3-D Mapping of Bridges and Riverbeds

MnDOT bridge inspectors often have to find out what lies beneath the surface of Minnesota’s rivers. Thanks to new sonar inspection technology, the Bridge Office now has a way to see previously hidden riverbed floors and underwater bridge structures in far better detail than ever before.

Typically, bridge engineers turn to professional divers to provide information about what’s underwater. But diving inspections don’t always deliver precise information about bridge damage, debris and riverbed topography.

Of the 11,183 Minnesota bridges that span waterways, about 585 require underwater inspection.

In recent years, bridge inspectors turned to underwater inspection technologies to identify areas of interest and direct divers who can inspect hands on. In turbid, sediment-heavy conditions with low visibility such as the Mississippi River, non-optical technologies – laser, radar and sonar – offer safe and useful options. Sonar gathers underwater acoustic data into point clouds for imaging two-and three-dimensional models of conditions.

An engineer prepares to lower tripod-mounted sonar unit into the St. Croix River in Stillwater.

 

In winter 2014, a vendor demonstrated the use of sonar at the Third Avenue bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, where a void was previously discovered during a diving inspection. Acoustic investigation of the frozen-over site delivered a three-dimensional image of a scoured cavity of eroded concrete under a pier in conditions unsuitable to diving inspection. Later that year, the Bridge Office purchased its own three-beam sonar unit with funds secured from MnDOT’s research implementation program. MnDOT is the nation’s first state transportation department to use the technology, according to Petra DeWall, waterway engineer.

The new 3D scanning technology provides much better information than divers can. Nicki Bartelt, hydraulic design engineer, said divers can see up to 2 feet in front of them in good rivers, so most of the work is done by feel.

With the new technology, Bartelt and her colleagues receive a 3D image to base decisions on. Diver reports included only narratives and rough sketches.

“It’s like night and day,” said Nicki Bartelt, hydraulic design engineer. “It’s a picture, but it’s more than that. It’s a point cloud. It’s totally scalable. It is real-world elevations and dimensions. It’s like the difference between Google Earth and a paper map.”

Although the information is far better from these scans, federal bridge inspection standards still require hands-on inspection of bridges, including substructures above and below the water’s surface. For now, the scans will be used to augment diver inspections and other purposes.

“We’re looking to augment with scans to make it safer for the divers,” DeWall said.

The research implementation team identified a host of lessons and best practices after purchasing and testing the new equipment.

“This does have a pretty steep learning curve,” Bartelt said. “It’s not something you can just buy and use. You have to learn how to use it.”

Getting different pieces of the equipment set up and able to communicate with each other was the first difficult step. Field testing also identified the need for a dedicated generator to provide a consistent portable power source because of difficulty with batteries.

What’s Next?

MnDOT will develop and publish an underwater imaging policy and reach out to districts, counties, cities and other bridge owners to promote its imaging capability. The hydraulics unit will develop data on completed projects, generate a list of bridges that suit underwater imaging and ensure field personnel are trained to use imaging techniques and inspection.

“I think it’s really exciting, because it opens your eyes to what’s going on in the river,” said DeWall. “We always just assumed before, but now we can see it and document it. The fact that you have the ability to rotate the picture and move it around, and zoom through it makes a huge difference.”

These videos explain the sonar inspection technology:

This post pertains to Report 2017-40, “Multi-Beam Sonar Infrastructure
Mapping Research.

Nanotechnology Reduces Cold-Weather Cracking in Asphalt Pavements

Adding graphite nanoplatelets (GNP) to asphalt binders and applying the methodology developed in a new MnDOT study could provide a cost-effective approach to reducing cold-weather cracking and increasing the durability of Minnesota pavements.

“This project gives MnDOT a low-cost way to incorporate the latest nanotechnologies into our asphalt mixtures, reducing cold-weather cracking and increasing the durability of Minnesota pavements,” said Shongtao Dai, Research Operations Engineer, MnDOT Office of Materials and Road Research.

What Was Our Goal?

The objective of this project was to develop a cost-effective method to determine the optimum mix design of GNP-reinforced asphalt binders and mixtures. This method would predict the fracture behavior of these materials using a combination of simple laboratory testing and computer modeling.

What Did We Do?

Researchers developed a method for determining the quantity of GNP to add to an asphalt binder to achieve optimal asphalt mixture performance. The method used a computer model to predict the low-temperature fracture behavior of mixtures based on bending beam rheometer (BBR) tests on fine aggregate mixtures. This test applies a load to the center of a thin, rectangular specimen that has been cooled to a low temperature while its edges rest on two elevated supports, and then measures how the specimen bends over time. The results of this test determine the stiffness of materials and their ability to relax the stresses of contraction.

The BBR test is simpler, less expensive and less labor-intensive than the more accurate semicircular bend (SCB) test, which measures fracture resistance—the way cracks in a material form—by loading a semicircular sample from its apex. However, the SCB test can determine the properties of all the particles within a mixture; the BBR test can only evaluate the mechanical properties of coarse aggregates. To obtain the accuracy of the SCB test without the labor and expense, the computer model developed by researchers in this study uses BBR results as inputs to simulate SCB tests and infer the properties of fine aggregates.

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Although simpler and less expensive than a SCB test, a BBR test only evaluates the properties of a mixture’s coarse aggregates.

What Did We Learn?

Researchers validated their computer model by comparing its results with those of  actual SCB tests. They found that the model was able to predict the results of SCB tests for both conventional and GNP-modified mixtures. By performing only a BBR test on the fine aggregates mixture and inputting the results into the computer model, researchers obtained a reasonable prediction of the fracture response of the final asphalt mixtures.

In turn, the model showed that using GNP in asphalt binders can significantly improve the strength and fracture resistance of a mixture compared to mixtures with unmodified asphalt binders. The model can be used as a design tool to determine what percentage of GNP is needed to achieve the necessary tensile strength for a target value of fracture energy.

What’s Next?

Using GNP in asphalt binders, in combination with the methodology developed in this project, could potentially provide MnDOT with a cost-effective approach to improving the cold-weather performance of Minnesota pavements, preventing cracking and increasing pavement durability. MnDOT will continue to evaluate the use of GNP in its asphalt mixes.

This post pertains to Report 2018-02, “A Mechanistic Design Approach for Graphite Nanoplatelet (GNP) Reinforced Asphalt Mixtures for Low-Temperature Applications.” Further GNP research is underway. Find related projects at MnDOT.gov/research.

New Project: Real-Time Winter Weather Alerts Planned for Highway Message Signs

The longest winter in recent memory might have ended, but MnDOT’s traffic and maintenance staff are already planning how to make future winters easier on Minnesota drivers.

Recently, the Regional Transportation Management Center was awarded funding to deliver real-time winter weather warnings via its roadside and overhead highway message signs. The RTMC displayed blizzard warnings for the first time during six storms last winter, but the alerts had to be manually entered.

“This is similar information that you receive on your cell phone or the evening news,” said Brian Kary, RTMC Traffic Operations director. “But for somebody who’s traveling down I-90 and just passing through, they might not realize that they’re entering an area with a blizzard.”

Another initiative aims to expand the road condition data that’s available during winter storms by piloting the use of mobile sensors on maintenance supervisor trucks and above-ground sensors at select Road and Weather Information System sites.

Both projects are among eight research implementation projects recently selected for funding by the governing board for MnDOT’s transportation research program.

Multi-lane highway with real-time message boards

Weather Alerts

Minnesota has nearly 300 Dynamic Message Signs, which currently issue real-time warnings about traffic incidents, road work and congestion. Around 200 are in the Twin Cities metro; the rest are in Greater Minnesota.

Kary’s two-year project will develop a system that can automatically relay critical weather alerts, which change frequently, are labor-intensive and error-prone when physically entered. Only blizzard warnings from the National Weather Service are initially planned, but the system will be capable of broadcasting all types of weather alerts.

A number of other states already issue weather alerts via their Dynamic Message Signs, so MnDOT has case studies to look at.

It’s possible that the signs could also someday relay information from MnDOT’s Maintenance Decision Support System and roadside weather sensors. A current pilot project uses weather sensors and flashings on a rural stretch of highway near Dassel Cokato High School to warn motorists and notify maintenance staff of unexpected blow ice.

warning sign indicating ice on road when flashing

Improving Road Condition Information

Over the next two years, the Maintenance Office will test the use of mobile and above-ground sensors to expand the geographic coverage of RWIS sites, which feed valuable weather and road surface information to highway operations managers and advanced traveler information systems. This might lead to the elimination of in-road sensors, which require lane closures to maintain and must be replaced during road construction projects.

The mobile sensors will collect road condition information, such as temperature, humidity, due point, and friction, from five maintenance supervisor trucks. The other non-invasive sensors will be attached to an RWIS tower or a pole near the roadway and use laser technology to read road surface temperature and condition (water ice, slush and snow).

See this related news story from KSTP-TV.

Managing Stormwater Runoff with Recycled Peat and Taconite Tailings

Researchers have found that peat has high potential to replace commercial compost in MnDOT’s standard bioslope and bioswale design for roadside ditches, and that taconite tailings performed comparably to the sand currently specified in MnDOT designs, with the additional benefit of removing phosphates.

Finding alternatives to commercial compost and sand for use in bioswales will help MnDOT meet regulatory requirements for stormwater runoff, while reducing the costs and environmental effects of transporting and storing these materials.

“The results of this project will very much facilitate the development of green infrastructure by reducing its cost to MnDOT and Minnesota local agencies, helping them to do more with less,” said Dwayne Stenlund, Erosion Control Specialist, MnDOT Erosion Control and Stormwater Management.

What Was Our Goal?

The objective of this project was to evaluate peat and muck excavated from construction activities, taconite tailings from area mining operations, and other stormwater quality filter media for use in bioswales and bioslopes along Minnesota highways. Laboratory and field tests of these products would examine their capacity to absorb water, retain pollutants and support plant growth to determine if they are beneficial and practicable in these designs.

What Did We Do?

2017-46-p1-image
For field tests, researchers created small plots using either peat or  compost mixed with native soil.

Researchers began by conducting a comprehensive literature review on the use of bioslopes and bioswales as stormwater treatment best management practices. Then they collected peat and muck near a highway construction project, as well as locally sourced sand, compost, taconite tailings and commercial peat.

These materials, as well as various combinations of materials, were used in laboratory experiments to determine how well they:

  • Absorbed water, using a falling head test to measure saturated hydraulic conductivity, which indicates the rate at which water infiltrates a material.
  • Retained pollutants, using leaching experiments to quantify how well they removed copper, lead, zinc, nitrate and phosphate.
  • Sustained plant growth, using bioassays and greenhouse studies.

Finally, researchers conducted pilot field tests on three plots containing a 50/50 percent peat and sand mixture, and another three plots with a 50/50 percent compost and sand mixture. Between April and August of 2017, they monitored water infiltration, discharge water quality and vegetation establishment for these sites.

What Did We Learn?

“Ultimately, a combination of peat and taconite tailings will compare favorably with current MnDOT specifications for bioslope and bioswale design,” said Kurt Johnson, Research Fellow, University of Minnesota Duluth Natural Resources Research Institute.

Researchers found that peat has a strong potential for replacing commercial compost in MnDOT’s standard bioslope and bioswale designs, and that taconite tailings also performed comparably to the sand currently specified in these designs. However, muck has little potential to replace commercial compost or peat due to its low permeability, poor infiltration and filtration properties, and lack of support for plant growth.
Results for the three properties of interest follow:

  • Infiltration rate: While muck had an unacceptably low hydraulic conductivity, peat performed at least as well as compost, and taconite tailings as well as sand. Pilot tests showed that a 50/50 mix of peat and taconite tailings had a similar water storage capacity to a 50/50 mix of compost and sand.
  • Pollution retention: Muck absorbed only 50 percent of metals; salvaged peat, commercial peat and compost performed well, absorbing more than 80 percent. However, only taconite tailings showed the potential to remove phosphate. None of  the materials removed nitrate.
  • Plant growth: Mixtures of compost or peat with sand or taconite tailings all performed well in providing a viable substrate for plant growth. Mixes containing compost performed the best in plant growth trials. Muck was difficult to mix with any other material, and its value for plant growth was minimal. Greenhouse study results showed no difference between sand and taconite tailings in their effect on plant growth response.

What’s Next?

In a second phase of this project, “Development and Regionalization of In Situ Bioslopes and Bioswales,” MnDOT will conduct further laboratory tests on alternative materials for bioslopes and bioswales, and expand field tests to several sites in Minnesota that have been constructed using these materials. Researchers also recommend the development of specifications and detail drawings for the use of these materials.

This blog pertains to Report 2017-46, “Comparing Properties of Water Absorbing/Filtering Media for Bioslope/Bioswale Design,” published November 2017.

Minnesota transportation research blog