Texas Assesses LiDAR to Adjust Seal Rates
Editor’s Note: For this article, keep in mind the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) refers to the method of scattering aggregate immediately atop a freshly sprayed emulsion as a seal coat. To stay true to the technical report upon which this article is based, we will use TxDOT’s nomenclature of “seal coat” and “rock” in place of “chip seal” and “aggregate,” respectively.
TxDOT wished to solve the continuing problems of rock loss, flushing and bleeding its seal coats have been experiencing over the years. But with experienced inspectors leaving the industry, among other complications, the department foresaw the opportunity for increased problems, rather than improvement. Enter Project 5-6963-01, which allowed researchers from Texas A&M Transportation Institute, College Station, to evaluate 21 projects in three Texas districts over the period from May 2019 to April 2021. Here’s a synopsis of the report 5-6963-01-R1 “Seal Coat Binder Rate Adjustments Using LiDAR Data,” published June 2021 by Darlene Goehl, Charles Gurganus, Kai-Wei Liu and Jia-Lin Hsu.
The authors begin by intimating the project has been a success: “Better methods to identify changing pavement conditions and subsequently adjust construction binder rates have become available through the recently completed research project 0-6963 by using mobile light detecting and ranging (LiDAR) reflectivity data.”
According to the report, about 16,000 lane miles in Texas are resurfaced annually with seal coats through the preventive maintenance program and another 3,000 lane miles of seal coats are placed annually with “state forces.” The report states that seal coats are also used in intermediate layers during pavement construction to seal the pavement structure and this “is a significant investment of over $300 million annually.” To address recurring problems in a system that has seen little change in design, construction practices, or equipment, TxDOT looked at two recently completed research projects.
Project 0-6989: Update Seal Coat Application Rate Design Method offered an updated procedure to design seal coat application rates. The authors suggested the adjustment factors were subjective and more research could provide measures for those rates.
Project 0-6963: Planning the Next Generation of Seal Coat Equipment showed the LiDAR system could remove much of the subjectivity when determining variations in surface conditions, which is vital for adjusting seal coat binder rates on the fly.
And that was one of the points of Project 5-6963-01: remove subjectivity to reduce risk for TxDOT.
“Researchers used LiDAR reflectivity data to describe pavement condition changes through an efficient and effective automated data analysis method,” the authors shared. “Researchers reviewed the projects identified in research project 0-6963 and worked with the Bryan District on six summer 2019 seal coat projects to identify pavement condition changes and binder rate adjustments. For the 2020 seal coat projects, researchers worked with the Bryan District and two additional districts (Waco and Brownwood) to select five projects from each district. Researchers collected data on the selected locations, applied the algorithm, and provided the district with suggested application rate adjustments.”
Here’s what they recommended, from the report:
“Determine the starting rate from the design procedure developed in TxDOT research project 0-6989, and then determine the binder rate adjustments from LiDAR data analysis. This process can help field engineers make real-time decisions and can lead to better seal coat performance.”
The authors also recommended DOT work with contractors to make adjustments, pointing out coordination with the contractor can help fine-tune the shot length to coincide with reality. “Work with the contractor to determine the shot length, and then use the LiDAR data to summarize adjustments based on the proposed shot length instead of a typical length.”
Quick Tip: The report authors highly recommended using a variable-rate nozzle “[w]hen the difference in the median rate between wheel paths or between the wheel paths and outside the wheel paths is greater than 0.03 gallons per square yard.”
The authors reminded its readers that the existing pavement surface type will influence the LiDAR data received for analysis. “There is a control section for a seal coat surface and one for a hot mix surface. If the wrong control section is used, the adjustment algorithm will not produce accurate results. There is potential for inaccurate adjustments when long sections of level-up exist on a typical seal coat roadway due to the algorithm if the reference control section is not changed.”
Finally, the authors recommended monitoring and documenting projects where the difference between the proposed and actual shot rate is more than 0.02 gallons per square yard. “Evaluations of as-built projects will help designers and inspectors understand field adjustments.”
Overall, the authors concluded that the “study validated the finding in project 0-6963 that the mobile LiDAR system shows much promise to remove a significant amount of subjectivity when determining variations in surface conditions…The LiDAR data method of rate adjustment along with the new design method developed in project 0-6989 are the initial steps in implementing the newest technologies for seal coat rate design.”
Read the full report on the project “Implementation of Seal Coat Binder Rate Adjustments Using LiDAR Data” at http://tti.tamu.edu/documents/5-6963-01-R1.pdf.