Pavement defects and failures and how to prevent them

May, 31 2021

Pavement defects and failure

Pavements are durable surface materials constructed on an area intended to sustain foot and vehicle traffic. Unfortunately, failure to properly design and build your pavement can reduce serviceability and eventually cause premature failure. Although pavements are durable, they aren't indestructible. Extreme weather conditions such as hail storms and ice can result in wear and tear, causing distress to your pavement. Here are some of the typical pavement distresses and failures to understand.

1. Alligator cracking

This is a structural failure caused by: • Weakness in the surface • Poor drainage • A base that’s too thin Usually, this structural failure starts as longitudinal cracking in the wheel path before progressing to alligator cracking after severe distress. You can fix alligator cracking by performing a full-depth patch.

2. Linear (longitudinal) cracking

These cracks are parallel to the pavement's laydown or centerline direction and caused by reflective cracking, poor joint construction, or pavement fatigue. The longitudinal cracking can be fixed by sealing small cracks (about ½ inch) to prevent moisture from penetrating the subgrade. Alternatively, severe cracks are resolved by replacing the cracked pavement layer with an overlay.

3. Block cracking

This is common in areas that experience constant weather changes, affecting how the asphalt binder expands and contracts with temperature cycles. It causes the asphalt pavement to shrink. Like longitudinal cracking, block cracking can be fixed by sealing less severe cracks to prevent moisture penetration. On the other hand, severe cracks are fixed by replacing the entire cracked pavement layer with an overlay.

How geotechnical experts can help with pavement defects

Generally, geotechnical engineering investigates the behavior of earth materials while assessing the risks posed by site conditions. Geotechnical experts use this research and findings to ensure safe and secure pavement construction and design. For instance, geotechnical experts use a mechanistic approach to determine pavement responses such as strains, stresses, and deflections caused by loading and environmental influences. With this information, they can ensure contractors apply effective construction practices like increasing the rigidity of layers within the pavement system to reduce the stresses transferred to lower layers. Ultimately, geotechnical engineering is an essential aspect of pavement performance and construction. Therefore, before hiring a pavement contractor, it’s wise to enlist a geotechnical expert's services to ensure the longevity of your pavement. Contact us today to maximize the productivity and profitability of your projects with our geological and geotechnical experience.

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