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Long-Term Heat Wave Causing Pavement Damage

Caryn Harrington

As much of South Dakota remains in an Excessive Heat Warning this week, road crews are trying to keep up with a common hot-weather issue.

With this summer’s extended heat, highway repair crews are keeping busy addressing pavement that crumbles in the high temperatures.  Department of Transportation engineer Travis Dressen says since concrete is full of water molecules, the road substance is subject to damage from changing elements.

“They react to the temperatures just like everything else does.  So in the winter time, when things are cold, those materials contract, and on the opposite side, in the summer time, as those pavements heat up, they expand—and there’s times when there’s no place for that movement to happen except upwards.  So that’s when we tend to start seeing those blowups,” says Dressen.

Dressen says concrete highways that are jointed every 10 or 15 feet can develop problems along the joint lines—he says while it’s possible to get a chunk of the road in a tire, the road damage is minimal.

Dressen says, “Now, on the Interstate, we have continually reinforced concrete pavement; so they don’t have the joints across the road, so those slabs are taking up movement across several miles of pavement.  The forces that can be generated can cause some pretty significant buckling in those pavements, where they can come up—maybe up to a foot up in the air—and they can cause issues for a driver, there’s no question.”

Dressen says DOT crews usually are alerted to highway issues through the State Radio system—although they also hear from Highway Patrol troopers and the public.