MnDOT construction projects require tons of hot mix asphalt each year, with over 188 road and bridge projects in the 2020 construction season alone.
Historically, plant mixed asphalt has been weighed, tracked and paid for with computer-generated paper tickets. Paper ticketing isn’t an ideal process for a variety of reasons—on-site ticket collection poses safety risks, tickets can be easily lost, and data must be tabulated manually, just to name a few.
Researchers examined the practice of reducing the binder content of cold in-place asphalt recycling mixtures in the field on especially hot days to improve workability. Laboratory testing of mixtures at various temperatures and binder levels found the practice keeps mixtures workable, improves compaction and does not significantly diminish performance.
Researchers developed sophisticated models for high-density asphalt pavement mixtures. After calibrating the model to experimental data available from 5 percent air void asphalt mixtures, the research team conducted tests on three Minnesota mixtures to further refine the model. A Phase II study will develop multiple high-density mix designs for Minnesota applications.
Researchers ran a sophisticated low-temperature asphalt cracking performance test at multiple labs to study the test, its variability and repeatability, and its additional promise in studying reflective cracking susceptibility of overlays. Results put MnDOT closer to implementing test specifications for low-temperature cracking test for pavement mixes.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation is working with other state agencies in a pooled fund study to improve methods for testing crack resistance of asphalt mixtures. To expand options further, MnDOT asked researchers to evaluate alternative tests with standard lab equipment. The new tests produced repeatable results. Methods include the semicircular bend (SCB) test in a nontypical configuration, a dynamic modulus test of smaller asphalt mixture samples, a bending beam rheometer (BBR) test of mixtures, and a BBR of asphalt material for binder selection.
Researchers examined mixtures of recycled asphalt pavement (RAP) and aggregate for new gravel road surface layers in the lab and in the field. Although test results did not align perfectly, and field results were somewhat uneven, findings suggest that mixtures with 70 percent RAP content can reduce dust generation. After a year of service these roadways can match all-aggregate gravel road performance in terms of strength, but with a smoother ride.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.