UDOT warns of buckling roads during heatwave

Jul 11, 2022, 5:10 PM | Updated: 10:20 pm

DRAPER, Utah — Sunday evening, the Utah Department of Transportation was forced to shut down a major artery in Salt Lake County when the concrete pavement buckled in the heat. Road crews cannot predict when or where that kind of damage will happen, but they expect more of it in the coming weeks.

In the heating of the day, road buckling becomes more likely because materials contract in the cold and expand in the heat. So, in the afternoon sun, that concrete on the interstate is expanding and not cooling down very much overnight. 

“The bridge was actually becoming a little bit of a speed bump,” said Jake Brown, UDOT Region 2 South Area Supervisor.

Around 4 p.m. Sunday, the concrete panels on the edge of a bridge expanded too much and buckled at 11400 South and approximately 500 East.

(Jed Boal/KSL TV)

“When we’re getting temperatures of 100 degrees plus, you’re looking at roadway temperatures of 120, 125, 130,” Brown said. “So, what’s happening is the concrete is expanding.”

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.

“As the pressure builds in that joint, that joint will eventually have nowhere to go, and we call it blow up. What happens is, boom — either you can have a teepee like this where that’s really dangerous for traffic, or you’ll just start to see the top of a concrete break apart and blow up,” Brown said.

The sharp ridge in the road caused by the buckling could have damaged cars.

A UDOT employee called in the incident to get the problem addressed right away.

“Keep your eye out,” Brown said. “If you see any of those, contact highway patrol dispatch.”

Sunday night, crews cut in expansion joints to relieve pressure on the concrete panels. For a more permanent patch, they will cut out the crumbling concrete Monday night and pour in rapid set concrete.

They expect more of that kind of buckling in the coming days across the Wasatch Front as the heat continues.

“I’m sure of it,” Brown said. “We call this ‘blow up season.’ When it starts getting hot, we’re not worried about the snow anymore, we’re worried about concrete blow ups.”

UDOT is keeping one lane open during these repairs and expects the road to be ready for the Tuesday morning commute.

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UDOT warns of buckling roads during heatwave