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Linear Cracking in Bridge Decks
Soundar S.G. Balakumaran, Ph.D., P.E., Richard E. Weyers, Ph.D., P.E., and Michael C. Brown, Ph.D., P.E.
Soundar Balakumaran
Soundar Balakumaran
Year: 2018
VTRC No.: 18-R13
Abstract: Concrete cracking in bridge decks remains an important issue relative to deck durability. Cracks can allow increased penetration of chlorides, which can result in premature corrosion of the reinforcing steel and subsequent spalling of the concrete deck. Although it is understood that the service life of bridge decks is affected by concrete cracking, the degree to which cracking affects service life is unknown. Crack repairs may be expensive, and only a few state transportation agencies have developed effective decision-making tools to support engineering decisions about whether and how to repair cracks in bridges.

To understand how various factors affect the formation of cracks and to comprehend how cracks influence the performance of bridge decks, a comprehensive literature review was performed of publications from the early 1970s to the present. With findings from more than 45 years of research, the influences of about 30 factors were included in the literature review.

In this study, 37 highway bridges in Virginia were selected on the basis of environmental exposure, geographic location, traffic conditions, and construction era. Ten decks with ordinary portland cement (OPC) concrete with a water–cementitious material (w/c) ratio of 0.47 with uncoated reinforcement were built from 1968 through 1971, and 27 decks with concrete with a w/c ratio of 0.45 with epoxy-coated reinforcement were built from 1984 through 1991. Of the newer 27 decks, 11 had concrete with supplementary cementitious material (SCM) such as fly ash and slag. The study included field surveys, sampling, and extensive data collection with regard to the decks. In addition, a laboratory study of the collected samples was conducted to understand the material properties and to determine the chloride contents. Statistical methods were used to analyze the collected data and to form regression models for prediction of crack influence on chloride diffusion.
The increase in chloride diffusion through cracks when compared to that of corresponding uncracked locations was statistically significant. No strong correlation was found between surface crack width and chloride diffusion; however, a significant correlation was found between crack depth and chloride diffusion.

To understand the effects of cracks on the durability of the structures, service life was estimated using a probabilistic chloride diffusion model based on Fick’s second law of diffusion. The estimated service life of the decks with concrete with SCM was around 100 years but only if no cracks were present. The presence of cracks affected the service life significantly. With higher crack frequencies, the service life plunged to the levels of decks built with OPC concrete, which was significantly lower to begin with. The service life of decks built with OPC concrete was not significantly affected by the presence of cracks, primarily because the high permeability of OPC concrete, with or without the presence of cracks, results in a shorter service life for OPC concrete decks. Time to corrosion initiation for corrosion-resistant reinforcing bars, ASTM A1035 (VDOT Class I reinforcement) and ASTM A955 (VDOT Class III reinforcement), was estimated, and the service lives were much longer compared to those of the decks in this study constructed with other types of reinforcement. Implementation guidance for quality assurance of newly built bridge decks with modern concrete mixtures and corrosion-resistant reinforcement and for maintenance of existing bridge decks was developed based on the study results.