Cracking the code for longer-lasting roadways

5/4/2021 McCall Macomber

Written by McCall Macomber

By McCall Macomber, Illinois Center for Transportation

As with anything, communication is key — and the same is true when it comes to building roadways.

With approximately 90% of Illinois’ roads owned and operated independently from the Illinois Department of Transportation, communicating road design and construction techniques well is critical.

Jeffery Roesler
Jeffery Roesler

So when Jeffery Roesler, a University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor, and Charles Wienrank, IDOT’s pavement design engineer, noticed a pattern of premature cracking on some of the state’s concrete roads, they jumped at the chance to investigate why in the joint Illinois Center for Transportation and IDOT project, “R27-193-4: Premature Cracking Mechanisms for Jointed Plain Concrete Pavement.”

 “There were some projects that had premature cracking that appeared to have followed IDOT’s specifications, at least from the broad picture, and it puzzled me why these particular projects were having issues,” Roesler said.

“We needed to make sure this was not a statewide problem and that we’re giving the right information,” he added.

To figure out the source of premature cracking, Roesler’s team began by surveying 67 urban concrete roadways throughout Illinois.

“The first step was figuring out if there’s a systematic problem in many locations in the state that are using the IDOT standards,” Roesler said. “And if there is, what is causing it and how do we resolve it in the design and construction guidance we give local engineers?”

Premature transverse cracking on a concrete pavement in Illinois.
Premature transverse cracking on a concrete pavement in Illinois.

After surveying the roadways, the team found no systematic design or specification guidance from IDOT that was leading to premature distress or cracking problems.

The team then set its sights on how to better communicate IDOT’s concrete pavement design and construction guidance to local engineers and contractors, including potentially having short training classes reminding engineers of key standards relating to performance as well as updates to IDOT’s pavement specifications and manuals.

 “Newly constructed pavements are expected to be maintenance free for several years, so hopefully better adherence to design details, along with proper construction techniques, will result in long-lasting concrete pavements with little distress and good ride quality,” Wienrank said.

For Wienrank and Roesler, the project also hit home at a personal level, as they got to carry on the work of the late Ernest Barenberg, their undergraduate and graduate advisor, respectively.

“Professor Barenberg developed the background and framework for the mechanistic-empirical design procedures for concrete pavements back in the 1980s that are still used by IDOT today,” Wienrank said. “He was also the one who encouraged me to pursue my master’s degree.”

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This story was published May 4, 2021.