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CA Highway Buckles Under Intense Heat

Thursday, June 22, 2017

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Roads and sidewalks in California are starting to buckle due to the intense heat.

Four lanes of Highway 50 near Sacramento were closed earlier this week due to extensive pavement buckling brought on by the heat—with a reported high of 106 degrees on Sunday. 

Since Sunday, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has responded three times to reports of “disturbed pavement.” Four lanes near Jefferson Boulevard had to be closed for repairs, but the lanes have since been reopened.

Sidewalks in Santa Rosa also went through some upheaval, as the region reached a high of 100 degrees.

Perilous Pavement

Heat is not the only factor that contributes to pavement buckling. According to officials, the damage is also partially due to the extremely wet winter California endured. Combine heat and moisture, and what results is movement of pavement and subsequent breakage.

“We've had the extremely wet winter so that created some conditions, a lot of moisture in the soil," Gilbert Montessori-Chan, spokesperson for Caltrans, told KCRA 3. "And now, we're having high temperatures and we're not even in summer yet. So, we don't know what Mother Nature will bring."

Other Causes

Heat waves have brought fits of sudden pavement buckling to different regions of the country in recent years.

Last year, a June heat wave caused highways in the Midwest and Plains states to "blow up," a trend that officials attributed to an especially wet spring there prior to the sudden onset of 90-plus-degree days.

In the summer of 2012 in Wisconsin, certain areas reached up to 135 degrees. This reportedly resulted in 17 pavement buckles the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) had to repair.

Rory Rhinesmith, deputy administrator of the highway division of WisDOT, told the La Crosse Tribune that pavement buckling, while somewhat unpredictable, often has to do with the type and age of the concrete involved. Rhinesmith also pointed out that there is an increased likelihood of buckling when temperatures exceed 90 degrees, and while asphalt is more elastic than concrete, it will still heave and buckle when it has been used to cover an old concrete road, or if it is under pressure from adjacent concrete.

Future Damage

As the summer continues to heat up in California, there is an increased likelihood of roads and sidewalks buckling. Caltrans will be keeping an eye on the roadways, but has asked for assistance with keeping these places safe. "If they travel the highway regularly and they see something a little different, unusual and there's a little bumpiness, they can contact us," Montessori-Chan said.

Caltrans went on to detail that the affected stretch of Highway 50 had originally been built in the 1970s, and had been identified to receive part of the SB1 transportation funding approved by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this year. This funding will assist with road maintenance and rehabilitation, and, if Caltrans receives this funding, the speed of the repair project will increase by five years.


Tagged categories: Asphalt; Caltrans; concrete; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Roads/Highways

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