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Construction of the Iowa Highway 60 Precast Prestressed Concrete Pavement Bridge Approach Slab Demonstration Project

Chapter 6. Approach Slab Construction

Pre-Construction Meetings

Pre-construction meetings with the installation contractor were an essential part of this project, particularly since the contractor had not constructed a project of this nature previously. Several pre-construction meetings and conference calls were conducted to work out the installation schedule and other construction details such as materials to be used and coordination with the post-tensioning subcontractor. Dixon Construction of Correctionville, Iowa, constructed the bridges for Highway 60 and was responsible for installation of the PPCP approach slabs.

Base Preparation

The Highway 60 approach slabs were constructed over a layer of crushed limestone aggregate that was placed over the bridge embankment fill. The base was graded as closely as possible to the required cross slope with a bulldozer, then fine-graded by hand. A tripod-mounted rotating laser with x- and y-axis tilt control was used to fine-grade the base to the proper cross slope and elevation. A portable plate vibratory compactor was used to consolidate the coarse aggregate base to the proper elevation. Because it was important for the precast panels to rest on the paving notch at the bridge abutment, the aggregate base was graded slightly lower than the paving notch. Over the aggregate base, the single layer of 0.15-mm (6 mil) thickness polyethylene sheeting (friction-reducing material) was rolled out just prior to placement of the panels. Figure 27 shows the base-grading operation.

Figure 27. Photo. Grading and compaction of the aggregate base material.

Figure 27. Photo. Grading and compaction of the aggregate base material. A team of workers use tools to work on the base material. One worker uses a power tool to compact, the other spreads out the material using a rake.

Panel Installation

Precast panel installation for the south and north approach slabs took place the weeks of August 28, 2006, and September 4, 2006, respectively. Panels were shipped to the jobsite one panel per truck due to the weight of each panel. Panel installation required between 15 and 30 minutes per panel, depending on how much fine-grading of the base was required to set the panels at the correct elevation.


Prior to installing the panels, neoprene pads, 13 mm (1/2 in.) thick, were placed over the paving notch and against the vertical face of the abutment. The neoprene pads provided more uniform support for the precast panels on the paving notch and will permit some degree of hinging action at the abutment–approach slab interface as the abutment rotates over time. The skewed panels (1A and 1B) were installed first into their final position, aligning the longitudinal joint with the centerline of the roadway. The panels for each section of panels (A and B) were then installed separately. A gap was initially left between each of the panels for applying the joint epoxy and installation of the foam gaskets around the duct openings.

After all four panels of a section were temporarily in place, the post-tensioning strands were fed from the end of the approach slab (panels 4A and 4B) through the panels to the anchors at the abutment end. Epoxy was then applied to the keyways of each joint just prior to the crane moving each panel into its final position. Temporary post-tensioning (using two of the strands) was used to snug the panels together to seat the keyway in the epoxy. Slight tension was maintained on the lifting lines during the temporary post-tensioning process. The sequence was then repeated for the adjacent section of panels. Figures 28 and 29 show the installation of the skewed panels at the bridge abutment and a finished approach slab prior to post-tensioning, respectively.

Figure 28. Photo. Installation of Panel 1A at the south bridge abutment.

Figure 28. Photo. Installation of Panel 1A at the south bridge abutment. A crane lowers the panel into position. It is guided into place by a team of 5 workers while another films the procedure.

Figure 29. Photo. Finished approach slab prior to final post-tensioning.

Figure 29. Photo. Finished approach slab prior to final post-tensioning. A view of the newly laid panels stretching into the distance. There is still a gap between them.

Joint Epoxy

The epoxy used for the panel joints was a high-viscosity, gel-paste epoxy, suitable for bonding hardened concrete to hardened concrete. The epoxy had a pot life of 45 minutes and a 1-day compressive strength of 62 MPa (9,000 lbf/in2). The epoxy sealed the joints between panels to prevent water from infiltrating the embankment and helped prevent leakage of the tendon grout. The epoxy also helped to compensate for unevenness in the keyway surfaces. By applying a layer of epoxy 3 mm (1/8 in.) thick to the keyways and squeezing the panels together lightly, the epoxy filled any irregularities in the keyway surface, ensuring full contact between panels to eliminate stress concentrations. Figure 30 shows epoxy being applied to a keyway before the panel was pulled into its final position.

Figure 30. Photo. Application of joint epoxy during panel installation.

Figure 30. Photo. Application of joint epoxy during panel installation. A team of workers apply joint epoxy to two panels ready for joining.

Temporary Post-Tensioning

Temporary post-tensioning was used to snug adjacent panels together as each was installed. This process helped to seat the keyways together, squeezing out excess epoxy. Two strands, located at approximately the quarter points, were used for temporary post-tensioning. Only enough pressure to pull the panels together was applied so that spalling would not occur if there were any unevenness in the joint. This pressure was maintained long enough for the epoxy to reach an initial set. The temporary post-tensioning was then released, and the next panel was pulled into place. After all four panels were installed, the two temporary post-tensioning strands were tensioned long enough for the epoxy in all of the joints to reach a final set. Figure 31 shows the application of temporary post-tensioning to one panel.

Figure 31. Photo. Temporary post-tensioning used to pull panels together.

Figure 31. Photo. Temporary post-tensioning used to pull panels together. A crane suspends a panel which has pressure regulated cables attached. The procedure is supervised and controlled by two workers.


All transverse and longitudinal post-tensioning tendons consisted of single, 15 mm (0.6 in.) in diameter, Grade 270, 7-wire strand. The longitudinal post-tensioning strands were fed through the ducts as the panels were installed to ensure that all strands could be inserted. After all of the panels for each approach slab were installed, the transverse post-tensioning strands were then fed through the panels and across the longitudinal joint. Figures 32 and 33 show the longitudinal and transverse strands being fed through the panels, respectively.

Longitudinal post-tensioning was completed first to ensure that any differential longitudinal movement of the sections on either side of the longitudinal joint had occurred prior to transverse post-tensioning. The longitudinal tendons were stressed only after the approach slab had been anchored to the paving notch to ensure that it did not pull away from the bridge abutment during stressing. Wedges were seated by hand into the post-tensioning anchors from the anchor access pockets. The strands were tensioned to 75 percent of their ultimate strength or approximately 1.4 MPa (203 ksi). Tensioning began with strands near the middle of each post-tensioned section and alternated out to the edges of the slab.

After insertion of the transverse post-tensioning strands, the ducts extending from each of the panels into the longitudinal joint were spliced together to create a continuous duct. The longitudinal joint was then filled prior to tensioning the strands. After the joint had gained adequate strength (approximately 3 to 4 hours after placement), the transverse tendons were partially tensioned to prevent shrinkage cracking in the joint. After the joint had cured for approximately 24 hours, final transverse post-tensioning was applied. Strand tensioning began with the tendons at the bridge abutment and progressed to the end of the approach slab.

Figure 32. Photo. Inserting the longitudinal strands into the approach slab.

Figure 32. Photo. Inserting the longitudinal strands into the approach slab. A work crew is shown inserting the strands into the slabs, which have been put in position by the crane shown nearby.

Figure 33. Photo. Inserting the transverse strands into the approach slab.

Figure 33. Photo. Inserting the transverse strands into the approach slab. Two workers are shown inserting the strand into the side of the slabs.


Grouting was completed after all post-tensioning had been completed and the pockets (anchor access and instrumentation pockets) and longitudinal joint had been filled. Initially, tendon grouting was started prior to underslab grouting. However, after experiencing significant grout leakage from the tendons, the process was reversed and underslab grouting was completed first.

Tendon Grouting

As discussed previously, the purpose of grouting the post-tensioning tendons is both to provide an additional layer of corrosion protection for the strands and to bond the strands to the concrete so that individual panels can be cut out and removed in the future for repairs or replacement without compromising the prestress of the entire approach slab.

A prepackaged cable grout mixture, specifically formulated for post-tensioning strands, was used for the tendon grout. Grout was pumped from the inlet port at the anchor at one end of the tendon to the port at the anchor at the other end of the tendon. Although some grout leakage was observed when grouting the longitudinal tendons, grout flow from the outlet of each tendon indicated full grouting. No leakage was observed during transverse tendon grouting. Figure 34 shows the tendon grouting operation.

Figure 34. Photo. Grouting of the post-tensioning tendons (photo by Iowa State University, reprinted by permission).

Figure 34. Photo. Grouting of the post-tensioning tendons. A worker is shown connecting a hose to one of the tendons protruding from a slab.

Underslab Grouting

Underslab grouting was used to fill any voids beneath the approach slab. Because a very course crushed stone base was used beneath the panels, it was not possible to fine-grade the base to the point that complete support was provided. The grout mixture used was a standard IADOT underslab grout mixture consisting of Type 1 portland cement, Class C fly ash, and water, according to Section 2539 of the IADOT Standard Specifications.(18) Grout was pumped beneath the approach slab through ports cast into the precast panels for this purpose. The grout was pumped at very low pressure (< 20 kPa [30 lbf/in2]) to reduce the risk of lifting the slab. Grout was pumped until it would not flow anymore (after reaching the maximum pressure) or until it began to flow out of an adjacent grout port. A rod and level was used to monitor any slab lifting during the underslab grouting operation, as shown in figure 35. The polyethylene sheeting beneath the approach slab helped to prevent the grout from bonding the approach slab to the underlying base. While some leakage through the polyethylene sheeting is likely unavoidable, it should not be significant enough to restrain movement of the approach slab.

Figure 35. Photo. Rod and level were used to check for slab lifting during the underslab grouting operation. (photo by Iowa State University, reprinted by permission).

Figure 35. Photo. Rod and level were used to check for slab lifting during the underslab grouting operation. A worker is shown with the hose connected to the top side of the slab, next to him stands a co-worker with a level.

Finishing and Tie-in

Longitudinal Joint

As discussed above, the longitudinal joint was filled after completion of longitudinal post-tensioning, but prior to transverse post-tensioning. A pea gravel concrete mixture was used to fill the longitudinal joint. After placing the material, wet burlap was placed over the joint for curing. Within 3 to 4 hours after filling the joint, the transverse post-tensioning tendons were tensioned to approximately 10 percent of their final load to compress the joint to prevent cracking from shrinkage. Approximately 24 hours after filling the joint, the full and final transverse post-tensioning force was applied. Figure 36 shows the filling operation for the longitudinal joint.

Figure 36. Photo. Filling of the longitudinal joint (photo by Iowa State University, reprinted by permission).

Figure 36. Photo. Filling of the longitudinal joint. A crane holds a cement bucket over a joint as one worker guides it and two co-workers fill and then level the joint.

Pocket Filling

At the same time that the longitudinal joint was filled, the post-tensioning anchor access pockets and the post-tensioning tendon instrumentation pockets were also filled. The same concrete mixture used for the longitudinal joint was also used for the pockets, and the pockets were also covered with wet burlap mats for curing.

Bridge Abutment Anchor

Before the final longitudinal post-tensioning was completed, the approach slab was anchored to the paving notch, as shown in figure 37. A hole 32 mm (1 1/4 in.) in diameter was drilled into the paving notch using a core drill bit that would not damage the paving notch. A grout mixture was then poured into the hole, and the anchor pins were inserted.

Expansion Joint

After installation of the panels, post-tensioning, and grouting, an IADOT standard EF expansion joint was constructed at the end of the approach slab. Epoxy-coated dowel bars, 38 mm (1 1/2 in.) in diameter, were inserted into the ends of the precast panels, and a flexible foam expansion joint was placed over the dowels to provide a joint 100 mm (4 in.) wide. The cast-in-place pavement was then placed up to the expansion joint, encasing the other end of the dowels, and the expansion joint was sealed. Figure 38 shows the end of the south approach slab prior to inserting the dowels.

Figure 37. Illustration. Abutment anchor detail for PPCP approach slabs. (Note: 1 in. = 25.4 mm)

Figure 37. Illustration. Abutment anchor detail for PPCP approach slabs.

Figure 38. Photo. Dowels for the EF expansion joint prior to its installation in the precast panels (photo by Iowa State University, reprinted by permission).

Figure 38. Photo. Dowels for the EF expansion joint prior to installing them in the precast. The photo shows the edge of a slab with the dowels laid out on the ground ready to be positioned.

Diamond Grinding

The as-constructed smoothness of the approach slabs did not meet IADOT requirements for multilane primary divided highways, and required diamond grinding to achieve an acceptable level of smoothness. This was anticipated, however, as previous demonstration projects also required diamond grinding to provide a high-speed facility level of smoothness. Diamond grinding was also required for the bridge deck between the approach slabs. It is important to note, however, that the level of smoothness prior to diamond grinding was adequate for opening the approach slabs to traffic if necessary.

Both approach slabs were ground across the full width of the slab. Up to 19 mm (3/4 in.) of material was removed from some areas, particularly at the abutment where the top surface of the precast panels was slightly higher than the surface of the bridge deck. Grinding of both approach slabs took approximately 10 hours to complete. Figure 39 shows the diamond-grinding operation for the south approach slab.

Figure 39. Photo. Diamond grinding the south approach slab.

Figure 39. Photo. Diamond grinding the south approach slab. A grinding machine is shown as it drives along the slab.

Construction Issues and Challenges

Construction of the Highway 60 PPCP approach slabs presented several challenges and revealed several details that could be improved for future projects. Below are some of the key issues that were encountered during the construction process.

Panel Placement

Paving Notch Elevation—When the bridge was constructed, the top of the paving notch was constructed 380 mm (15 in.) below the top elevation of the bridge deck, rather than 330 mm (13 in.) per IADOT bridge abutment standards. An additional 76 mm (3 in.) was subsequently added to the paving notch to accommodate the 305-mm (12 in.) thickness of the precast panels. Unfortunately, the thickness of the neoprene pad was not accounted for, and consequently the precast panels at the abutment were 13 mm (1/2 in.) higher than the bridge deck. Although this was corrected later with diamond grinding, careful attention to the paving notch elevation is needed when designing the thickness of the precast panels.

Bridge Skew—The Highway 60 bridge was designed with a 30-degree right ahead skew. However, the actual as-constructed skew was not field-verified prior to fabricating the precast panels. Consequently, the skew angle on the panels did not match exactly the skew angle of the bridge when aligning the centerline edge of the precast panels to the centerline of the roadway. This discrepancy resulted in a larger gap at one end of the joint between the bridge and abutment, as shown in figure 40. While the difference in angle for the Highway 60 project was very small and did not cause a major problem with construction, verifying the as-constructed skew angle prior to panel fabrication is critical. Also, because it is impractical to achieve a perfect match of the skew angle, a plan for accommodating a joint gap should also be considered. For the Highway 60 bridge, the additional joint width was sealed with bituminous material.

Figure 40. Photo. Joint between south approach slab and bridge abutment.

Figure 40. Photo. Joint between south approach slab and bridge abutment. A close-up view of the joint.

Base Leveling—As discussed previously, the coarse crushed stone used for the base beneath the precast panels was difficult to trim and level, leaving noticeable voids beneath the panels. While underslab grouting can be used to fill these voids, they should be minimized if possible. The use of a finer material at the surface of the base should be considered on future projects if practical. Bituminous base materials have also been successfully used on previous projects.

Joint Spalling—The only distresses of significance that occurred during panel installation were two shallow spalls that occurred on the top surface of two of the panels on the south approach slab. These spalls occurred when the temporary post-tensioning was applied and were likely the result of slight unevenness in the top face of the keyway at the ends of these two panels. Figure 41 shows one of the spalls. Fortunately, these shallow spalls were mostly removed by the diamond-grinding process.

Figure 41. Photo. Minor joint spall that occurred during panel installation.

Figure 41. Photo. Minor joint spall which occurred during panel installation. A side view of a panel joint showing damage to the top side and misalignment on the joint itself. The panel is marked 10366.


Transverse Duct Alignment—To align the precast panels with the centerline of the road and with the bridge abutment, adjacent sections of precast panels were offset, resulting in slight misalignment of the transverse post-tensioning ducts, as shown in figure 42. While the amount of misalignment did not cause any problems with the transverse post-tensioning system, the use of flat, multistrand ducts should be considered for future projects, since these ducts would permit up to 50 mm (2 in.) of misalignment if needed. Flat ducts will require special adapters, however, to transition the flat multistrand duct to a monostrand anchor.

Figure 42. Photo. Slight misalignment of transverse post-tensioning ducts at the longitudinal joint.

Figure 42. Photo. Slight misalignment of transverse post-tensioning ducts at the longitudinal joint. A view from above of ducts on two panels which do not line up.


Grout Leakage—As discussed above, significant grout leakage from the longitudinal post-tensioning ducts was observed during grouting of the tendons of the south approach slab. This indicates that an adequate seal was not provided at some of the transverse joints, despite the use of both foam gaskets and epoxy around the ducts. While grout leakage was substantially reduced after underslab grouting had been completed, efforts should be made to reduce grout leakage for future projects. Wider and thicker gaskets will likely help reduce leakage, as would positive duct connections.

Post-Tensioning Anchor Recess—A conical shaped recess is normally formed behind post-tensioning anchors and subsequently patched with a dry-pack concrete mortar after stressing to protect the anchor and seal it from grout leakage. This recess was not provided behind anchors for the Highway 60 approach slab panels, and consequently grout leaked from the anchors during tendon grouting. Because a bonded post-tensioning system was used, corrosion protection for the anchors is not so critical, but providing these recesses would have prevented grout leakage.

Instrumentation and Monitoring

To monitor the behavior of the PPCP approach slabs and the potential effects they have on the behavior of the bridge, both the bridge and south approach slab were instrumented by Iowa State University through a separate effort sponsored by the Iowa Highway Research Board. To compare the behavior of the PPCP approach slab with that of a typical cast-in-place approach slab, the south approach slab on the southbound Highway 60 bridge was also instrumented. While the details of the instrumentation and monitoring can be found elsewhere,(8) the following is a brief summary of the instrumentation.

Bridge Instrumentation

The behavior of the northbound bridge was monitored through a series of strain gages and displacement transducers. Strain gages were mounted at the ends and midpoints of the bottom flange of three of the bridge girders of the south end span, as well as to three of the H-piles beneath the south abutment. Tilt meters were mounted at either end of the south abutment to monitor abutment rotation, and displacement transducers were attached to the either end of the south abutment to monitor longitudinal and transverse abutment movement. A total of 35 sensors were mounted to the northbound bridge.

Approach Slab Instrumentation

Behavior of the PPCP approach slab was monitored through crack meters mounted to the precast panels to measure joint movement between panels and between the abutment and the approach slab. Concrete strain was monitored using vibrating wire strain gages embedded in each of the precast panels of the south abutment (figure 43). Additionally, strains in the post-tensioning strands were monitored using strand meters mounted to selected longitudinal and transverse tendons after grouting had been completed. A total of 33 sensors were used to monitor the behavior of the PPCP approach slab.

Figure 43. Photo. Vibrating wire strain gage mounted in the precast panel during fabrication.

Figure 43. Photo. Vibrating wire strain gage mounted in the precast panel during fabrication. The photo offers a close-up view of the gage attached to the panel.

Showcasing Workshop

To provide IADOT and other State highway agencies, contractors, and industry representatives with a better idea of the PPCP bridge approach slab application, IADOT and FHWA sponsored a showcasing workshop that was held during construction of the Highway 60 approach slabs. The workshop was held on August 31, 2006, and featured presentations by those involved with each aspect of the project and a visit to the jobsite during installation of the panels for the south approach slab. Just over 40 attendees were present at the workshop from IADOT, industry, and other transportation agencies. Figures 44 and 45 show the presentation and site visit portions of the workshop (the agenda appears in appendix B).

Figure 44. Photo. Presentations were provided by those involved in the Highway 60 project.

Figure 44. Photo. Presentations were provided by those involved in the Highway 60 project. A view from the back of a classroom during which a presentation is being given.

Figure 45. Photo. Site visit during installation of the precast approach slab.

Figure 45. Photo. Site visit during installation of the precast approach slab. The photo depicts a large gathering of site visitors observing a crane lowering slabs into position.
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Updated: 02/20/2015

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration