Winnipeg's roads already take a pounding but a ground-shaking technology is now being applied to the city's pavement in hopes it will help plan more efficient road repairs in the future.
"This technology can really detect whether this concrete is performing accordingly or if there's cracks and damage under the surface of the concrete," said Ahmed Shalaby, a civil engineering professor at the University of Manitoba and the university's municipal infrastructure chair.
The falling weight deflectometer, a pickup truck outfitted with a hydraulic weight platform, drops about 180 kilograms (400 pounds) onto the road while sensors gather data to reveal the quality of the pavement below.
"That information translates into if there are voids under the surface, if there are cracks, if the road is damaged," said Shalaby.
The load simulates that of a passing loaded truck and does not cause any damage to the road.
"So without coring or digging in the pavement, we are able to tell what is the condition underneath the surface," said Shalaby, who became the city's first chair in municipal infrastructure — a U of M position funded by the city, province and private sector — in 2016. The research program, focused on improving municipal infrastructure, has a budget of just over $1 million dollars over five years.
Paving the way for fewer potholes
It's not the first time this technology has been used. Other cities and the province have been using the technique for years, but this summer is the first time it's being applied to Winnipeg streets.
The crews used the hydraulic weight on three projects last summer as an experiment. This summer they will gather information for six road projects that will be carried out in 2019.
The goal is to help engineers determine the strength of the existing concrete on streets that are set to be repaired or replaced.
The data will tell them just how much work the streets will need, from patching to complete replacement.
"Some repairs are more invasive than others, some repairs are more expensive than others, so we need to know where to apply what treatment, so we're able to save money and stretch the construction budget further to cover more roads." said Shalaby.
With better repairs the roads will last longer, and hopefully have fewer potholes, he said.
Stretching roadwork budgets further
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says stretching the city's construction budget is more important now than ever.
"This year alone there's 200 road projects that will fix 150 lane kilometres of road and we want to make sure that we are fixing those in the smartest way possible, using the right products and processes," he said.
Bowman says the city is investing $116 million in infrastructure projects in 2018.
The research chair position is intended to find better ways to repair and build roads, as well as provide valuable training for engineering students.
"It's an information-gathering technique. Without that we're just doing visual inspections, we're not really seeing what's happening with the road underneath," said Scott Sparrow, a member of Shalaby's pavement crew at the U of M.
Sparrow says the research will help engineers find better ways of fixing our city streets.
"The more information we have, and the more use of it that we make in our designs and our maintenance programs, the [more] roads will last longer, save the city some money, and hopefully we don't have to do the repairs as often," he said.