Understanding Road Cracks: Types, Causes, and Prevention Strategy

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Roads, the lifelines of transportation networks, endure relentless stress from heavy traffic and harsh weather conditions. Over time, this wear and tear manifests as road cracks, compromising safety and efficiency. To tackle this problem, it’s important to understand why these cracks happen and how to prevent them. In this article, we’ll explore different types of road cracks, what causes them, and the best solution.

What are the different types of road cracks

The FHWA Distress Identification Manual categorizes road cracks into seven distinct types.

Fatigue (Alligator) Cracking

This type of cracking, which resembles the skin of an alligator, occurs due to repeated traffic loads and is commonly found on asphalt pavements. The constant flexing of the pavement under heavy traffic leads to the development of interconnected cracks, resembling the scales of an alligator’s skin.

Severe fatigue alligator road cracking
Severe Fatigue (Alligator) Cracking
Moderate fatigue alligator road cracking
Moderate Fatigue (Alligator) Cracking

Block Cracks

Block-like patterns develop when asphalt pavement shrinks during low temperatures or due to inadequate compaction during construction. These cracks form as the asphalt pavement contracts and expands with temperature changes, resulting in a pattern resembling a series of interconnected blocks.

Severe block road cracking
Severe Block Cracking

Edge Cracks

Cracks that form along the edges of the road are typically caused by insufficient support at the pavement edge or by erosion. Edge cracks often result from the lack of proper reinforcement or protection along the edges of the pavement, allowing water and debris to infiltrate and weaken the pavement structure.

Edge road cracking
Edge cracking

Wheelpath Longitudinal Cracks

Longitudinal cracks run parallel to the direction of traffic flow, often resulting from repetitive wheel loads and aging of the pavement. These cracks typically form in the areas of the pavement subjected to the most stress from vehicle traffic, gradually extending over time due to continued loading and environmental factors.

Wheel-path road cracking
Longitudinal (linear) cracking

Non-Wheelpath Longitudinal Cracks

Similar to wheel path longitudinal cracks, they occur outside the wheel path, usually due to poor construction quality or inadequate pavement design. These cracks may develop in areas where the pavement structure is weaker or where there are defects in the underlying layers, leading to longitudinal cracking outside the typical wheel tracks.

Non wheel-path longitudinal cracking

Transverse Cracking

Cracks perpendicular to the direction of traffic flow, are typically caused by thermal expansion and contraction of the pavement or by underlying structural issues. Transverse cracks often occur due to temperature fluctuations, which cause the pavement to expand and contract, leading to cracking perpendicular to the direction of traffic.

Transverse road cracking
Transverse Cracking

Reflection Road Cracking

Cracks that propagate upward from underlying pavement layers or joints are often caused by movement or deformation in the underlying layers. Reflection cracks typically occur when there is movement or shifting in the layers beneath the pavement, causing cracks to propagate upward through the surface layer.

Reflection road cracking
Intense transverse reflection cracking observed along joints in the concrete substrate.

Understanding the Causes of Road Cracks

Road cracks arise from the continuous strain of traffic and temperature changes. This stress weakens the surface asphalt and subgrade. Additionally, substandard construction, water infiltration, chemical damage, tree root interference, geological disturbances, heavy vehicle stress, aging infrastructure, lack of maintenance, and design flaws compound the deterioration, causing more significant cracking over time.

Road cracks can generally be categorized into two main groups:

  • Load-Induced Road Cracks

This results from the repeated application of heavy loads on the pavement surface, leading to fatigue and eventual cracking. Factors such as traffic volume, vehicle weight, and pavement design influence the severity of these cracks. Load-induced cracks develop gradually over time as the pavement undergoes repeated stress from vehicle traffic, eventually reaching a point where cracks begin to form and propagate.

  • Non-Load-Induced Road Cracks

Arise from various non-load-related factors, including temperature fluctuations, moisture infiltration, poor construction practices, inadequate materials, and geological conditions. These cracks can occur independently of traffic loads and are often influenced by environmental factors. Non-load-induced cracks may result from changes in temperature, moisture infiltration, or other environmental factors that weaken the pavement structure, making it susceptible to cracking even in the absence of heavy traffic loads.

How can road cracks be avoided?

Renolith 2.0 revolutionizes road construction with its advanced nanopolymer admixture. This cutting-edge technology exhibits super-pozzolanic behavior, enhancing the engineering properties of cementitiously bound materials, including concrete and bound pavement layers. Renolith 2.0 incorporates latex and cellulose, with latex being a well-established method for enhancing the durability of cementitious composites. Additionally, the addition of fibers like cellulose improves the toughness of cementitious composites, aiding in controlling both the extent of cracking and crack widths. Renolith 2.0 offers a straightforward, adaptable, and extensively tested approach to pavement nanoengineering.

By integrating Renolith 2.0 into pavement construction, durable road surfaces can be achieved using various materials, including in-situ soil or recycled materials. Its exceptional performance significantly reduces the risk of cracking, allowing for higher binder content and strength levels beyond conventional limits. Renolith 2.0 increases the mechanical performance of the stabilised material, including parameters such as CBR, compressive strength, tensile strength, flexural strength, and elastic modulus. Additionally, it imparts improved resistance to traffic-induced load damage, such as plastic deformation (e.g., furrowing) and fatigue, while significantly reducing the susceptibility of bound layers to shrinkage and fatigue cracking.

Renolith 2.0 pavements also boast strong sustainability credentials:

  • Pavements can be constructed and made available for use on the same day, minimizing traffic disruption.
  • They are not susceptible to degradation, thus minimizing maintenance needs and the impact on future generations.
  • Renolith 2.0 pavement provides a smooth and quiet-wearing surface.
  • The pavement can be constructed from in-situ material, avoiding the environmental impacts associated with using imported aggregates (mine, quarry, mill, process, wash, load, transport, and spread).
  • Asphalt and bitumen layers can be reduced in thickness or sometimes eliminated.
  • With Renolith 2.0 admixture, soil-cement layers require less cement and are better able to integrate recycled aggregates, fibers, or pozzolans.

Moreover, for additional comprehensive guidance, refer to the full Renolith 2.0 Design Guide. This document serves as a simplified guide intended to provide assistance on mix design, pavement thickness, construction process, and support pavement design.

For more information, please visit our resources page.

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