Road surface

Road surface
A road in the process of being resurfaced

Road surface (British English) or pavement (American English) is the durable surface material laid down on an area intended to sustain vehicular or foot traffic, such as a road or walkway. In the past cobblestones and granite setts were extensively used, but these surfaces have mostly been replaced by asphalt or concrete. Such surfaces are frequently marked to guide traffic. Today, permeable paving methods are beginning to be used for low-impact roadways and walkways.



The term road metal refers to the broken stone or cinders used in the construction or repair of roads or railways,[1] and is derived from the Latin metallum, which means both "mine" and "quarry".[2] Metalling is known to have been used extensively in the construction of roads by soldiers of the Roman Empire (see Roman road) but a limestone-surfaced road, thought to date back to the Bronze Age, has been found in Britain.[3] Metalling has had two distinct usages in road surfacing. The term originally referred to the process of creating a gravel roadway. The route of the roadway would first be dug down several feet and, depending on local conditions, French drains may or may not have been added. Next, large stones were placed and compacted, followed by successive layers of smaller stones, until the road surface was composed of small stones compacted into a hard, durable surface. "Road metal" later became the name of stone chippings mixed with tar to form the road surfacing material tarmac. A road of such material is called a "metalled road" in Britain, a "paved road" in the USA, or a "sealed road" in Australia.[4]


Closeup of asphalt on a driveway

Asphalt (specifically, asphalt concrete) has been widely used since 1920–1930. The viscous nature of the bitumen binder allows asphalt concrete to sustain significant plastic deformation, although fatigue from repeated loading over time is the most common failure mechanism. Most asphalt surfaces are laid on a gravel base, which is generally at least as thick as the asphalt layer, although some 'full depth' asphalt surfaces are laid directly on the native subgrade. In areas with very soft or expansive subgrades such as clay or peat, thick gravel bases or stabilization of the subgrade with Portland cement or lime may be required. Polypropylene and polyester geosynthetics have also been used for this purpose[5] and in some northern countries, a layer of polystyrene boards have been used to delay and minimize frost penetration into the subgrade.[6]

Depending on the temperature at which it is applied, asphalt is categorized as hot mix asphalt (HMA), warm mix asphalt, or cold mix asphalt. Hot mix asphalt is applied at temperatures over 300 F with a free floating screed. Warm mix asphalt is applied at temperatures of 200 to 250 degrees F, resulting in reduced energy usage and emissions of volatile organic compounds.[7] Cold mix asphalt is often used on lower volume rural roads, where hot mix asphalt would cool too much on the long trip from the asphalt plant to the construction site.[8]

An asphalt concrete surface will generally be constructed for high volume primary highways having an Average Annual Daily Traffic load higher than 1200 vehicles per day.[9] Advantages of asphalt roadways include relatively low noise, relatively low cost compared with other paving methods, and perceived ease of repair. Disadvantages include less durability than other paving methods, less tensile strength than concrete, the tendency to become slick and soft in hot weather and a certain amount of hydrocarbon pollution to soil and groundwater or waterways.

In the 1960s, rubberized asphalt was used for the first time, mixing crumb rubber from used tires with asphalt. In addition to using tires that would otherwise fill landfills and present a fire hazard, rubberized asphalt is more durable and provides a 7–12 decibel noise reduction over conventional asphalt. However, application of rubberized asphalt is more temperature-sensitive, and in many locations can only be applied at certain times of the year.


Concrete roadway in San Jose, California

Concrete surfaces (specifically, Portland cement concrete) are created using a concrete mix of Portland cement, gravel, sand and water. The material is applied in a freshly mixed slurry, and worked mechanically to compact the interior and force some of the thinner cement slurry to the surface to produce a smoother, denser surface free from honeycombing. The water allows the mix to combine molecularly in a chemical reaction called hydration.

Concrete surfaces have been refined into three common types: jointed plain (JPCP), jointed reinforced (JRCP) and continuously reinforced (CRCP). The one item that distinguishes each type is the jointing system used to control crack development.

Jointed Plain Concrete Pavements (JPCP) contain enough joints to control the location of all the expected natural cracks. The concrete cracks at the joints and not elsewhere in the slabs. Jointed plain pavements do not contain any steel reinforcement. However, there may be smooth steel bars at transverse joints and deformed steel bars at longitudinal joints. The spacing between transverse joints is typically about 15 feet (4.6 m) for slabs 7–12 inches thick. Today, a majority of the U.S. state agencies build jointed plain pavements.

Jointed Reinforced Concrete Pavements (JRCP) contain steel mesh reinforcement (sometimes called distributed steel). In jointed reinforced concrete pavements, designers increase the joint spacing purposely, and include reinforcing steel to hold together intermediate cracks in each slab. The spacing between transverse joints is typically 30 feet (9.1 m) or more. In the past, some agencies used a spacing as great as 100 feet (30 m). During construction of the interstate system, most agencies in the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. laid jointed-reinforced pavement. Today only a handful of agencies employ this design, and its use is generally not recommended as JPCP and CRCP offer better performance and are easier to repair.

Continuously Reinforced Concrete Pavements (CRCP) do not require any transverse contraction joints. Transverse cracks are expected in the slab, usually at intervals of 3–5 ft. CRCP pavements are designed with enough steel, 0.6–0.7% by cross-sectional area, so that cracks are held together tightly. Determining an appropriate spacing between the cracks is part of the design process for this type of pavement.

Continuously reinforced designs generally cost more than jointed reinforced or jointed plain designs initially due to increased quantities of steel. However, they can demonstrate superior long-term performance and cost-effectiveness. A number of agencies choose to use CRCP designs in their heavy urban traffic corridors.

One advantage of cement concrete roadways is that they are typically stronger and more durable than asphalt roadways. They also can easily be grooved to provide a durable skid-resistant surface. Disadvantages are that they typically have a higher initial cost, are far rougher to drive on, crack continuously,[citation needed] and are more difficult to repair in a satisfactory manner. A sampling of interstate highways recently found that those concrete roads are in poor condition and cause damage to freight carried by truck.[citation needed] Repairs are expensive and time consuming,[citation needed] thus are often delayed until the road becomes quite unsatisfactory for travel.

The first street in the United States to be paved with concrete was Court Avenue in Bellefontaine, Ohio in 1891.[10] The first mile of concrete pavement in the United States was on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan in 1909.[11]

Composite surfaces

Composite surfaces combine Portland cement concrete and asphalt. They are usually used to rehabilitate existing roadways rather than in new construction.

Asphalt overlays are sometimes laid over distressed concrete to restore a smooth wearing surface. A disadvantage of this method is that movement in the joints between the underlying concrete slabs, whether from thermal expansion and contraction, or from deflection of the concrete slabs from truck axle loads, usually cause cracks, called reflective cracks in the asphalt.

Whitetopping uses Portland cement concrete to resurface a distressed asphalt road.

In-place recycling

Distressed road materials can be reused when rehabilitating a roadway. The existing pavement is ground or broken up into small pieces, then compacted to form the base or subbase for new pavement. Some methods used include:

  • Rubblizing of concrete pavement. Existing concrete pavement is broken into gravel-sized particles, compacted, then overlaid with asphalt pavement.[12]
  • Cold in-place recycling. Bituminous pavement is ground or milled into small particles. The asphalt millings are blended with a small amount of asphalt emulsion, paved and compacted, allowed to cure for seven to ten days, then overlaid with asphalt.[13]
  • Hot in-place recycling. Bituminous pavement is heated to 250 to 300°F (120 to 150°C), milled, combined with a rejuvenating agent or virgin asphalt binder, and compacted. It may then be overlaid with a new asphalt overlay. This process only recycles the top two inches (50 mm) or less, so it can be used to correct rutting, polishing or other surface defects. It is not a good procedure for roads with structural failures. It also generates high heat and vapor emissions, and may not be a good candidate for built-up areas.[13]
  • Full depth reclamation (FDR) is a process which pulverizes the full thickness of the asphalt pavement and some of the underlying material to provide a uniform blend of material. A binding agent may be mixed in to form a base course for the new pavement, or it may be left unbound to form a subbase course. Common binding agents include asphalt emulsion, fly ash, Portland cement or calcium chloride. It can also be mixed with aggregate, recycled asphalt millings, or crushed Portland cement to improve the gradation of the material. FDR can provide a design life cycle of 30 years with proper lab testing and field verification.[13]

Bituminous Surface Treatment (BST)

Concrete pavers

Bituminous Surface Treatment (BST) is used mainly on low-traffic roads, but also as a sealing coat to rejuvenate an asphalt concrete pavement. It generally consists of aggregate spread over a sprayed-on asphalt emulsion or cut-back asphalt cement. The aggregate is then embedded into the asphalt by rolling it, typically with a rubber-tired roller. BSTs of this type are described by a wide variety of regional terms including "chip seal", "tar and chip", "oil and stone", "seal coat", "sprayed seal"[14] or "surface dressing".[15]

BST is used on hundreds of miles of the Alaska Highway and other similar roadways in Alaska, the Yukon Territory, and northern British Columbia. The ease of application of BST is one reason for its popularity, but another is its flexibility, which is important when roadways are laid down over unstable terrain that thaws and softens in the spring.

Other types of BSTs include micropaving, slurry seals and Novachip. These are laid down using specialized and proprietary equipment. They are most often used in urban areas where the roughness and loose stone associated with chip seals is considered undesirable.

Thin membrane surface

A thin membrane surface (TMS) is an oil treated aggregate which is laid down upon a gravel road bed producing a dust free road.[16] A TMS road reduces mud problems and provides stone free roads for local residents where loaded truck traffic is negligible. The TMS layer adds no significant structural strength, and so is used on secondary highways with low traffic volume and minimal weight loading. Construction involves minimal subgrade preparation, following by covering with a 50 to 100 millimetres (2.0–3.9 in) cold mix asphalt aggregate.[9] The Operation Division of the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure in Saskatchewan has the responsibility of maintaining 6,102 kilometres (3,792 mi) of thin membrane surface (TMS) highways.[17]

Otta seal

Otta seal is a low-cost road surface using a 16–30-millimetre (0.63–1.2 in) thick mixture of bitumen and crushed rock.[18]

Granular Surface

A granular surface can be used with a traffic volume where the average annual daily traffic is 1,200 vehicles per day or less.[citation needed] There is some structural strength as the road surface combines a sub base and base and is topped with a double graded seal aggregate with emulsion.[9][19] Besides the 4,929 kilometres (3,063 mi) of granular pavements maintained in Saskatchewan, over 90% of New Zealand roads are unbound granular pavement structures.[17][20]

Gravel and unsurfaced roads

See also gravel road and dirt road

Many low-volume roads are not paved or treated, and instead are surfaced with gravel. Dirt roads are roads where traffic runs on the soil native to the location. The traffic volume that unsurfaced roads can carry varies on traffic, soil and weather conditions.

The decision whether to pave a road or not often hinges on traffic volume. It has been found that maintenance costs for gravel roads often exceed the maintenance costs for paved or surface treated roads when traffic volumes exceed 200 vehicles per day. [21]

Some communities are finding it makes sense to convert their low volume paved roads to aggregate surfaces. [22]

A brick main street in Lebanon, Illinois

Other surfaces

Pavers (or paviours), generally in the form of pre-cast concrete blocks, are often used for aesthetic purposes, or sometimes at port facilities that see long-duration pavement loading. Pavers are rarely used in areas that see high-speed vehicle traffic.

Brick, cobblestone, sett, and wood plank pavements were once common in urban areas throughout the world, but fell out of fashion in most countries, due to the high cost of labor required to lay and maintain them, and are typically only kept for historical or aesthetic reasons.[citation needed] In some countries, however, they are still common in local streets. Likewise, macadam and tarmac pavements can still sometimes be found buried underneath asphalt concrete or Portland cement concrete pavements, but are rarely constructed today.

Acoustical implications

Roadway surfacing choices are known to affect the intensity and spectrum of sound emanating from the tire/surface interaction.[23] Initial applications of this knowledge occurred in the early 1970s. Roadway surface types contribute differential noise effects of up to four dB, with chip seal type and grooved roads being the loudest and concrete surfaces without spacers being the quietest. Asphaltic surfaces perform intermediately relative to concrete and chip seal. These phenomena are, of course, highly influenced by vehicle speed. Rubberized asphalt has been shown to give a very significant 7–12 decibel reduction in road noise when compared to conventional asphalt applications.

Deteriorating asphalt

Surface deterioration

As pavement systems primarily fail due to fatigue (in a manner similar to metals), the damage done to pavement increases with the fourth power of the axle load of the vehicles traveling on it. According to the AASHO Road Test, heavily loaded trucks can do more than 10,000 times the damage done by a normal passenger car. Tax rates for trucks are higher than those for cars in most countries for this reason, though they are not levied in proportion to the damage done.[24] Passenger cars are considered to have no practical effect on a pavement's service life, from a fatigue perspective.

Other failure modes include aging and surface abrasion. As years go by, the binder in a bituminous wearing course gets stiffer and less flexible. When it gets "old" enough, the surface will start losing aggregates, and macrotexture depth increases dramatically. If no maintenance action is done quickly on the wearing course potholing will take place. If the road is still structurally sound, a bituminous surface treatment, such as a chipseal or surface dressing can prolong the life of the road at low cost. In areas with cold climate, studded tires may be allowed on passenger cars. In Sweden and Finland, studded passenger car tires account for a very large share of pavement rutting.

Several design methods have been developed to determine the thickness and composition of road surfaces required to carry predicted traffic loads for a given period of time. Pavement design methods are continuously evolving. Among these are the Shell Pavement design method, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) 1993 "Guide for Design of Pavement Structures". A new mechanistic-empirical design guide has been under development by NCHRP (Called Superpave Technology) since 1998. A new design guide called Mechanistic Empirical Pavement Design Guide (MEPDG) was developed and is about to be adopted by AASHTO.

The physical properties of a stretch of pavement can be tested using a falling weight deflectometer.

Further research by University College London into pavements has led to the development of an indoor, 80-sq-metre artificial pavement at a research centre called Pedestrian Accessibility and Movement Environment Laboratory (PAMELA). It is used to simulate everyday scenarios, from different pavement users to varying pavement conditions.[25] There also exists a research facility near Auburn University, the NCAT Pavement Test Track, that is used to test experimental asphalt pavements for durability.

In addition to repair costs, the condition of a road surface has economic effects for road users. Rolling resistance increases on rough pavement, as does wear and tear of vehicle components. It has been estimated that poor road surfaces cost the average US driver $324 per year in vehicle repairs, or a total of $67 billion. Also, it has been estimated that small improvements in road surface conditions can decrease fuel consumption between 1.8 and 4.7%. [26]

See also


  1. ^ Anon. "Road metal". Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Merriam Webster inc.. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  2. ^ Anon. "Metal". Online etymological dictionary. 2001 Douglas Harper. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Anon (July 1998). "Bronze Age metalled road near Oxford". British Archaeology: News (Council for British Archaeology) (36). Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  4. ^ Anon. "Metalled Road". World Web Online. WordWeb Software. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  5. ^ "NUAE Geosynthetics Ltd. News: Project Scout Moor Wind farm". NUAE. May 2007. Retrieved 2 November 2008. 
  6. ^ Anon (June 1991). "Highway construction/ Ground insulation". Styropor: Technical information. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  7. ^ "Warm Mix Asphalt Technologies and Research". Federal Highway Administration. 2008-10-29. Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  8. ^ "Hot, Warm, Luke Warm and Cold Mix Asphalt". Cornell Local Roads Program. June 2009. Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  9. ^ a b c Gerbrandt, Ron; Tim Makahoniuk, Cathy Lynn Borbely, Curtis Berthelot (2000). "Guidelines must be followed strictly – No exceptions". Effect of Cold-in-place recycling on the Heavyweight Trucking Industry. 6th International Conference on Heavy Vehicle Weights and Dimension Proceedings. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  10. ^ Lee, B. J. and Lee, H. (2004), Position-Invariant Neural Network for Digital Pavement Crack Analysis. Computer-Aided Civil and Infrastructure Engineering, 19: 105–118. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8667.2004.00341.x
  11. ^ Kulsea, Bill; Shawver, Tom; Kach, Carol (1980). Making Michigan Move: A History of Michigan Highways and the Michigan Department of Transportation. Lansing, Michigan: Michigan Department of Transportation. OCLC 8169232. 
  12. ^ Rubblizing with Bituminous Concrete Overlay – 10 Years’ Experience in Illinois, Illinois Department of Transportation, April 2002,
  13. ^ a b c Cornell Local Roads Program, Asphalt Paving Principles, March, 2004
  14. ^ Sprayed Seal, Local Government & Municipal Knowledge Base, accessed January 29, 2010
  15. ^ Gransberg, Douglas D. (2005) (Digitised online by Google books). Chip Seal Best Practices. National Cooperative Highway. Transportation Research Board. pp. 13–20. ISBN 0309097444, 9780309097444.,M1. Retrieved 2009-02-25. 
  16. ^ Lazic, Zvjezdan; Ron Gerbrandt (2004). "Feasibility of Alternative salt storage structures in Saskatchewan Neilburg case study" (pdf). Measuring performance indicators for decision-making in winter mainenance operations. 2004 Annual conference of the Transportation Association of Canada. Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation. Retrieved 2009-02-25. [dead link]
  17. ^ a b "Highways and Infrastructure — Government of Saskatchewan". Archived from the original on 2008-02-08. Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  18. ^ New dust supression method on, retrieved 28 february 2009
  19. ^ "Surfacing Aggregate". Product brochure. South Africa. 2008.$File/Surfacing%20aggregate%20lr.pdf. Retrieved 2009-01-25. [dead link]
  20. ^ Oeser, Markus; Sabine Werkmeister, Alvaro Gonzales, David Alabaster (2008). "Experimental and numerical simulation of loading impact on modified granular pavements". 8th World Congress on Computational Mechanics 5th European Congress on computational methods in applied sciences and engineering ECCOMAS. 6th International Conference on Heavy Vehicle Weights and Dimension Proceedings. Retrieved 2009-01-25. 
  21. ^ "Cost Comparison of Treatments Used to Maintain or Upgrade Aggregate Roads". 2003. Retrieved 9/16/2011. 
  22. ^ "Roads to Ruin: Towns Rip Up the Pavement". Wall Street Journal. JULY 17, 2010. Retrieved 9/16/2011. 
  23. ^ C.M. Hogan, "Analysis of highway noise", Journal of Water, Air, & Soil Pollution, Volume 2, Number 3, Biomedical and Life Sciences and Earth and Environmental Science Issue, Pages 387–392, September, 1973, Springer Verlag, Netherlands ISSN 0049-6979
  24. ^ Statement Of Garth Dull For The Senate Epw Committee
  25. ^ "Scientists walk on tech pavement". BBC News. 12 September 2006. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  26. ^ "The Value of Smooth". Better Roads. Randall Reilly. August 2011. 

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