Extreme Heat Causing Utah Roads To Buckle
Jul 8, 2021, 5:28 PM | Updated: Jul 9, 2021, 4:37 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — Extreme heat has created a real problem for Utah’s roadways and the crews who keep the roads in good shape.
Earlier this week, the Utah Department of Transportation shut down two lanes of traffic on Interstate 215 when the concrete pavement buckled in triple-digit heat.
Road crews cannot predict when or where the damage will happen but conditions are primed right now.
“We expect to deal with it every single summer,” said UDOT statewide pavement engineer Jason Simmons. “There’s no sign of where and when it’s going to happen.”
Buckling could occur in this heatwave because materials expand in the heat. Fight now, concrete on the interstate is expanding but there are other forces at work too.
On Tuesday, the pavement buckled on I-215 in Taylorsville when the concrete expanded and had nowhere to go but up.
“It’s a terrible thing to have happen on an interstate. So we want to get in there, shut down the affected lanes right away,” said UDOT spokesman John Gleason.
Utah’s interstate surfaces are made of concrete panels 15 feet long connected by contraction joints.
“We know it’s going to crack. So, we cut those, so the cracks form right there,” Simmons said.
The concrete contracts and expands, but never back to its original volume. Over time, rocks and grit get in the joints which keeps the concrete from moving back and forth. When the concrete panels cannot move and the heat expands the concrete, it buckles.
“It’s these rocks that build up inside the joints that typically cause that failure,” Simmons said, pointing to where pebbles and sand were jammed in the contraction joints.
It’s not only the 100-degree heat that triggers the buckling.
“On that day (when the pavement buckled in Taylorsville), we had sustained high temperatures and sustained high low temperatures. So, that material was never able to contract back down and relieve the pressure.”
It happens anywhere from a dozen to two dozen times a year, he said.
It’s not a big problem from a paving repair standpoint, but a serious problem for traffic.
“There’s kind of an unwritten rule for some of our maintenance folks that they won’t take time off the last week of June, first week of July because we know we’re going to see these types of issues.”
If you see buckled or crumbled pavement disrupting traffic, call 911 because that is an emergency.