Tag Archives: cold weather research

10 Ways Transportation Research Keeps Minnesotans Moving in the Winter

As the first big snow and ice storms sweep through parts of Minnesota today, we’d like to remind you of some of our great winter weather research studies. Here’s a list of some of this winter-related research from MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board:

Living snow fences

Living snow fences are trees, shrubs, native grasses, wildflowers, or rows of corn crops located along roads or around communities and farmsteads. These living barriers trap snow as it blows across fields, piling it up before it reaches a road, waterway, farmstead or community. Through multiple research efforts, MnDOT continues to advance its practices for living snow fences. Willow plants, which are which are inexpensive and fast-growing, are a new form of snow fence. MnDOT has also developed a tool that allows the agency to better offer a competitive payment to farmers.

Related studies:

Permeable pavement

According to recent studies, researchers believe Minnesota could eliminate salt usage on low-volume local roads by switching to permeable pavements. Permeable pavements — pavements that allow water to seep through them — have been studied in some Minnesota cities, and a research project is currently underway to further investigate how much salt reduction can be expected.

Related studies:

Traffic recovery during winter storms

MnDOT’s Metro District developed a way to automatically determine when to stop plowing a highway after a snow storm. The method involves measuring traffic flow to determine when road conditions have recovered. Current practice calls for maintenance workers to visually inspect traffic lanes. The automated technique could potentially be more accurate and save time and costs.

Related study:

Salt and other deicing chemicals

Minnesota winters are no joke, and Minnesotans still need to get wherever they’re going despite harsh snow and ice conditions. That’s why MnDOT is constantly researching new and improved versions of salt and other deicing chemicals to keep roads safe at the least amount of damage to lakes, rivers and groundwater.

Related studies:

Snowplow blades

A couple years ago, MnDOT snowplow operators in southwestern Minnesota invented an experimental plow that uses the wind to cast snow from the road without impeding traffic or the operator’s view. This winter, MnDOT intends to test multiple types of snowplow blades as part of a larger research project comparing types of deicers.

Related study:

Snowplow technology

While a lot of research has been done on the plow itself, MnDOT hasn’t forgotten to invest in research to improve in-cabin snowplow technology as well. Some of the great technology recently developed to assist snowplow drivers, includes a driver assist application that a MnDOT plow driver used last winter to navigate a storm and rescue stranded motorists. The agency is also studying equipment factors that can cause fatigue in snowplow operators.

Related studies:

Salt-resistant grasses

When the snow melts every spring, the damage salt does to roadside grass is obvious. That’s why researchers have spent years looking into developing and implementing salt-tolerant grasses on roadside settings. The result of this effort has been the introduction and use of salt-tolerant sod and seed mixtures that are made up primarily of fine fescue species. MnDOT is also studying how chlorides are transported within watersheds in order to better focus efforts to reduce deicer usage in  areas where it will have the biggest environmental impact.

Related studies:

Cold-weather cracking prediction test

MnDOT has developed a test that can tell whether a contractor’s proposed asphalt mix will cause the road to crack in the winter. Building roads using better asphalt mixes leads to less cracking and fewer potholes. The test is expected to save the state about $2 million per year.

Related studies:

Pedestrian snow removal

It’s not all about cars and trucks. Minnesotans still ride bikes and walk in the winter. That why MnDOT assembled a comprehensive review of existing practices and policies from other states, as well as a summary of valuable publications that could be referenced while developing a new policy.

Related study:

Maintenance Decision Making

MnDOT research led to the development of a Maintenance Decision Support System and related components provide real-time, route-specific information to snow plow drivers, as well as recommended salt application levels. These recommendations have reduced chemical usage while still achieving performance targets for snow and ice clearance.

Related studies:

New test could help asphalt pavements survive winter intact

If there was ever a winter that demonstrated what cold weather can do to asphalt pavements, last one was it. But future winters may wreak less havoc on Minnesota roadways, thanks to a new asphalt mixture test in the final stages of evaluation by MnDOT’s Office of Materials and Road Research (OMRR).

Developed through a decade-long multi-state research project, the Disc-shaped Compact Tension (DCT) test evaluates the low-temperature performance of asphalt mixes. (See a video about the project that helped develop the DCT test below.)

For the first time, engineers will be able to predict how well a contractor’s proposed asphalt mix will hold up under harsh Minnesota winters.

“Performance testing is assuring that we’re getting what we’re paying for,” explained MnDOT Research Project Engineer Luke Johanneck.

Low-temperature cracking is the most prevalent form of distress found in asphalt pavements in cold climates. As the temperature drops, the pavement tries to shrink, creating cracks that allow water to seep in and eventually lead to pavement deterioration.

Until now, engineers have typically evaluated the individual components (such as amount of crushed aggregate and asphalt binder grade) and volumetric properties (such as air voids and asphalt content) of an asphalt mix, not how the final product performs in low temperature.

“It’s like baking a cake,” explained MnDOT Bituminous Engineer John Garrity. “Our current system says put in a half-cup of oil, two eggs and cake mix. Rather than just looking just at those individual components, taste the cake to see how good it is.”

Created by researchers at the University of Illinois, the DCT test applies tension to an asphalt mixture sample to determine its thermal fracture resistance. The test was determined to be the best of several methods looked at in another research study, conducted by the University of Minnesota with assistance from neighboring state universities.

The Disc-Shaped Compact Tension Test measures the fracture energy of asphalt  mixture lab or field specimens, which can be used in performance‐type specifications to control various  forms of cracking.
The test measures the fracture energy of asphalt mixture lab or field specimens, which can be used in performance specifications to control various forms of cracking.

The Office of Materials and Road Research is conducting pilot tests to become more familiar with the DCT test and to educate road contractors, who may eventually be required to use the test in Minnesota.

“This is very new to a lot of people that have been in the business for a long time,” Johanneck said.

Last summer, OMRR asked five contractors to submit asphalt mixes for testing. If a mix didn’t pass, the contractor was given suggestions for how to modify their recipe to better resist thermal cracking. This summer, OMRR plans to collect asphalt mixes from around the state to see how they measure up against a set of performance targets that were developed in the pooled fund study.

“We envision this at some point being part of our standard bid specifications,” Garrity said.

Those with a professional interest in the subject might be interested in a new video from MnDOT Research Services & Library (below) that demonstrates how to do the sample preparation for the DCT test.

Research Studies

Current DCT Test Implementation Project (2014) Pooling Our Research: Designing Asphalt Pavements That Resist Cracking at Low Temperatures (March 2013 Technical Summary) Synthesis of Performance Testing of Asphalt Concrete (September 2011) Investigation of Low Temperature Cracking in Asphalt Pavements National Pooled Fund Study 776 (2007 report)

Related Videos

Frost Damage in Pavement: Causes and Cures (full-length) Frost Damage in Pavement: Causes and Cures (short version)