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Concrete Pavement Design, Construction, and Performance

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Concrete pavements have been used for highways, airports, streets, local roads, parking lots, industrial facilities, and other types of infrastructure. When properly designed and built out of durable materials, concrete pavements can provide many decades of service with little or no maintenance. “Concrete generally has a higher initial cost than asphalt but lasts longer and has lower maintenance costs” (Hoel and Short 2006: 26).

 In some cases, however, design or construction errors or poorly selected materials have considerably reduced pavement life. It is therefore important for pavement engineers to understand materials selection, mixture proportioning, design and detailing, drainage, construction techniques, and pavement performance.

 It is also important to understand the theoretical framework underlying commonly used design procedures, and to know the limits of applicability of the procedures.

The first concrete pavement was built in Bellefontaine, Ohio, in 1891, by George Bartholomew. He had learned about cement production in Germany and Texas and found pure sources of the necessary raw materials, limestone and clay, in central Ohio. Because this was the first concrete pavement, the city council required him to post a $5,000 bond that guaranteed the pavement would last 5 years. Over 100 years later, part of his pavement was still in use. Details of the history of the project are provided by Snell and Snell (2002). The American Concrete Pavement Association (ACPA) “100 Years of Innovation”  .notes that the pavement “was an immediate success. Local businessmen petitioned to have the entire block around the Square paved with concrete. In 1893, Court Avenue and Opera Street were paved. 

Columbus Avenue and the remainder of Main Street followed in 1894.” At that time, the term “concrete” was not yet in general use, so the material was called “artificial stone” and mixed by hand in 1.5 m (5 ft) square forms. 

Other early concrete pavements included Front Street in Chicago, which was built in 1905 and lasted 60 years, and Woodward Avenue in Detriot (1909) which was the first mile of concrete pavement. There may have been even earlier concrete pavement experiments. Pasko (1998) notes “according to Blanchard’s American Highway Engineers’ Handbook of 1919, in 1879 in Scotland, a concrete was used with portland cement for binding. ‘

The surface was very good, but when the road commenced to break, it went to pieces very fast.’ Blanchard goes on to say that the first portland cement concrete (PCC) pavement in the United States was put down in 1893 on South Fitzhugh Street in Rochester, N.Y., by J.Y. McClintock, Monroe county engineer. This was a section of portland cement grouted macadam, a forerunner of the modern concrete pavement of the Hassam type. 

The cost of this pavement was $1 per square yard (per 0.84 square meters). However, the pavement soon deteriorated.” In spite of this possible earlier history, it is clear the Bellefontaine was the first successful, long-lasting concrete pavement. Wider availability of automobiles led to increasing demand for paved roads. In 1913, 37 km (23 miles) of concrete pavement was built near Pine Bluff, Arkansas, at a cost of one dollar per linear foot. It became known as the “Dollarway.” The pavement was 2.7 m (9 ft) wide and 125 mm (5 in) thick. The remains of Dollarway are preserved as a rest area along US 6.

 This was followed, in 1914, by 79 kms (49 miles) of concrete pavement for rural county roads in Mississippi, and by the end of 1914, a total of 3,778 km (2,348 miles) of concrete pavement had been built in the United States (ACPA 2006). Despite the growing importance of the automobile, it was in fact a bicyclists’ association that was organized and effective enough to press for the passage of the first Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1916. In the same year, the Portland Cement Association was organized to promote the use of portland cement and concrete. The concrete industry paved “seedling miles” with the hope that the public would demand they be linked together with more concrete pavement.