Types of Failures of Flexible Pavement

Flexible pavement consist of different layers such as,

  • Sub-grade
  • Sub-base course
  • Base course and
  • Surface course

If any one of the above mentioned layers becomes unstable or weak then it will result in failure of flexible pavement. Therefore it is very important to design and construct each layer with utmost care.

Different types of failure encountered in flexible pavements are as follow.

  1. Alligator cracking or Map cracking (Fatigue)
  2. Consolidation of pavement layers (Rutting)
  3. Shear failure cracking
  4. Longitudinal cracking
  5. Frost heaving
  6. Lack of binding to the lower course
  7. Reflection cracking
  8. Formation of waves and corrugation
  9. Bleeding
  10. Pumping

1. Alligator or Map Cracking (Fatigue Cracking)

This is a common type of failure of flexible pavements. This is also known as fatigue failure.

Followings are the primary causes of this type of failure.

  • Relative movement of pavement layer material
  • Repeated application of heavy wheel loads
  • Swelling or shrinkage of subgrade or other layers due to moisture variation

Fig-1 shows a pavement with fatigue cracking.

Fig-1 Fatigue Cracking
Fig-1 Fatigue Cracking

2. Consolidation of Pavement Layers (Rutting)

Formation of ruts falls in this type of failure. A rut is a depression or groove worn into a road by the travel of wheels.

This type of failure is caused due to following reasons.

  • Repeated application of load along the same wheel path resulting longitudinal ruts.
  • Wearing of the surface course along the wheel path resulting shallow ruts.

Fig-2 shows a pavement with Rutting.

Fig-2 Rutting
Fig-2 Rutting

3. Shear Failure Cracking

Shear failure causes upheaval of pavement material by forming a fracture or cracking.

Followings are the primary causes of shear failure cracking.

  • Excessive wheel loading
  • Low shearing resistance of pavement mixture

Fig-3 shows shear failure cracking of pavement.

Fig-3 Shear failure cracking
Fig-3 Shear failure cracking

4. Longitudinal Cracking

This types of cracks extents to the full thickness of pavement.

The following are the primary causes of longitudinal cracking.

  • Differential volume changes in subgrade soil
  • Settlement of fill materials
  • Sliding of side slopes

Fig-4 shows a pavement with longitudinal cracking.

Fig-4 Longitudinal Cracking
Fig-4 Longitudinal Cracking

5. Frost Heaving

Frost heaving causes upheaval of localized portion of a pavement. The extent of frost heaving depends upon the ground water table and climatic condition.

Fig-5 shows a pavement with frost heaving.

Fig-5 Frost Heaving
Fig-5 Frost Heaving

6. Lack of Binding with Lower Layer (Potholes & Slippage)

When there is lack of binding between surface course and underlying layer, some portion of surface course looses up materials creating patches and potholes. Slippage cracking is one form of this type of failure.

Lack of prime coat or tack coat in between two layers is the primary reason behind this type of failure.

Fig-6 shows a pavement with potholes & Fig-7 shows a pavement with slippage cracking.

Fig-6 Potholes
Fig-6 Potholes
Fig-7 Slippage Cracking
Fig-7 Slippage Cracking

7. Reflection Cracking

This type of failure occurs, when bituminous surface course is laid over the existing cement concrete pavement with some cracks. This crack is reflected in the same pattern on bituminous surface.

Fig-8 shows a pavement with reflection cracking.

Fig-8 Reflection Cracking
Fig-8 Reflection Cracking

8. Formation of Waves & Corrugation

Transverse undulations appear at regular intervals due to the unstable surface course caused by stop-and-go traffic.

Fig-9 shows a pavement with corrugation.

Fig-9 Corrugation
Fig-9 Corrugation

9. Bleeding

Excess bituminous binder occurring on the pavement surface causes bleeding. Bleeding causes a shiny, glass-like, reflective surface that may be tacky to the touch. Usually found in the wheel paths.

Fig-10 shows a pavement with corrugation.

Fig-10 Bleeding
Fig-10 Bleeding

10. Pumping

Seeping or ejection of water and fines from beneath the pavement through cracks is called pumping.

Fig-11 shows a pavement with pumping.

Fig-11 Pumping
Fig-11 Pumping


Highway Engineering by S.K. Khanna & C.E.G. Justo


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