Utah’s record heat creates conditions for roads to buckle

Sep 7, 2022, 5:05 PM | Updated: Jul 2, 2023, 8:03 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — This unprecedented heat wave can be tough on Utah roads. Last week, UDOT shut down several lanes of traffic on I-15 during the evening commute when the concrete pavement buckled in the searing heat.

UDOT crews cannot predict when or where the buckling will happen but conditions are primed.

The afternoon is the hottest time of the day. The concrete in the roads is expanding at that time. When that happens, roads can buckle.

“It happened at exactly the wrong time, right before the evening commute,” Said UDOT Spokesman John Gleason, referring to the road buckling last Thursday afternoon.

Record-breaking heat causes road to buckle in Centerville; I-15 backed up for hours

That’s when the interstate buckled right before the evening commute on I-15 northbound in Centerville. The damage, and repairs, forced UDOT to shut down all but one lane of northbound traffic, causing congestion for miles and several hours.

Typically, UDOT sees that kind of damage in the heat of July, not September.

“This year, it’s a little bit different where we have had 30-plus days of triple-digit weather,” Gleason said. “It’s something we have to watch out for.”

The concrete interstate panels are connected by contraction joints. The concrete contracts and expands, but never gets 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.

“As soon as we hear about an issue, we shut it down because the panels are expanding, and if they have no place to expand then they will start to crumble,” the UDOT Spokesman said. “That’s not something you want to be driving through.”

Hitting that crumbling concrete at highway speeds will damage cars and cause crashes.

It’s not just the triple-digit heat that buckles the road.

“When you have temperatures that are consistently in the triple digits through the day, and then it doesn’t really cool down much at night, you can have those issues,” Gleason said.

Fortunately, there have been no reports of buckled pavement during the last few days. If you see buckled or crumbled pavement disrupting traffic, call 9-1-1 because that is an emergency.

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Utah’s record heat creates conditions for roads to buckle