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Flexible pavement basics

Flexible pavement basics

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Published by: Showri Raju Addagatla on Jan 30, 2011
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11/20/2012

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2 Flexible Pavement Basics
Flexible pavements are so named becausethe total pavement structure deflects, or flexes, under loading. A flexible pavementstructure is typically composed of  severallayers of material. Each layer receives theloads from the above layer, spreads themout, then passes on these loads to the nextlayer below. Thus, the further down in the pavement structure a particular layer is,the less load (in terms of force per area) it must carry (see Figure 2.2).Figure 2.2: Flexible Pavement Load DistributionIn order to take maximum advantage of this property, material layers are usuallyarranged in order of descending load bearing capacity with the highest load bearingcapacity material (and most expensive) on the top and the lowest load bearingcapacity material (and least expensive) on the bottom. This section describes thetypical flexible pavement structure consisting of:
. This is the top layer and the layer that comes in contact withtraffic. It may be composed of one or several different HMA sublayers.
.This is the layer directly below the HMA layer and generallyconsists of aggregate(either stabilized or unstabilized).
. This is the layer (or layers) under the base layer. A subbaseis not always needed.After describing these basic elements, this section then discusses subsurface drainageand perpetual pavements.
2.1 Basic Structural Elements
A typical flexible pavement structure (see Figure 2.3) consists of the surface courseand the underlying base and subbase courses. Each of these layers contributes tostructural support and drainage. The surface course (typically an HMA layer) is thestiffest (as measured byresilient modulus) and contributes the most to pavementstrength. The underlying layers are less stiff but are still important to pavementstrength as well as drainage and frost protection. A typical structural design results ina series of layers that gradually decrease in material quality with depth.Figure 2.3: Basic Flexible Pavement StructureAs seen in Figure 2.4, a flexible pavement structure can vary greatly in thickness. Thesigns on top of the pictured cores indicate the State Route (SR) and the Mile Post(MP) where the core was taken. The scale at the right edge of the photo is in inches. 
 
Major Topics in this Section
 
Figure 2.4: Various Flexible Pavement Cores from Washington State 
2.1.1 Surface Course
The surface course is the layer in contact with traffic loads and normally contains thehighest quality materials. It provides characteristics such as friction, smoothness,noise control, rut and shoving resistance and drainage. In addition, it serves to prevent the entrance of excessive quantities of surface water into the underlying base,subbase and subgrade (NAPA, 2001). This top structural layer of material issometimes subdivided into two layers (NAPA, 2001):1.
Wearing Course
. This is the layer in direct contact with traffic loads. It ismeant to take the brunt of traffic wear and can be removed and replaced as it becomes worn. A properly designed (and funded) preservation programshould be able to identify pavement surface distress while it is still confined tothe wearing course. This way, the wearing course can be rehabilitated beforedistress propagates into the underlying intermediate/binder course.2.
 Intermediate/Binder Course
. This layer provides the bulk of the HMAstructure. It's chief purpose is to distribute load.
2.1.2 Base Course
The base course is immediately beneath the surface course. It provides additionalload distribution and contributes to drainage and frost resistance. Base courses areusually constructed out of:
 
1.
 Aggregate
. Base courses are most typically constructed from durableaggregates (see Figure 2.5) that will not be damaged by moisture or frostaction. Aggregates can be either stabilized or unstabilized.2.
 HMA
. In certain situations where high base stiffness is desired, base coursescan be constructed using a variety of HMA mixes. In relation to surfacecourse HMA mixes, base course mixes usually contain larger maximumaggregate sizes, are more open graded and are subject to more lenientspecifications.Figure 2.5: Limerock Base Course Undergoing Final Grading 
2.1.3 Subbase Course
The subbase course is between the base course and the subgrade. It functions primarily as structural support but it can also:1.Minimize the intrusion of fines from the subgrade into the pavement structure.2.Improve drainage.3.Minimizefrost action damage.4.Provide a working platform for construction.The subbase generally consists of lower quality materials than the base course but better than the subgrade soils. A subbase course is not always needed or used. For example, a pavement constructed over a high quality, stiff subgrade may not need theadditional features offered by a subbase course so it may be omitted from design.However, a pavement constructed over a low quality soil such as a swelling clay mayrequire the additional load distribution characteristic that a subbase course can offer.In this scenario the subbase course may consist of high quality fill used to replace poor quality subgrade (over excavation).

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