Test method development for evaluating the freeze-thaw performance of segmental retaining wall blocks



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Texas A&M University


Segmental retaining walls (SRW), typically constructed along highways, have grown in popularity over the past decade. Manufacturers of SRW blocks have estimated the service life of a properly constructed wall to be approximately 75 years. However, there have been reports of SRW systems failing after only five years in service. Suspected causes of the SRW failures are freeze-thaw damage while exposed to deicing salts sprayed by snow plows from highways. The current standard test method used for evaluating the freeze-thaw durability of SRW blocks has several drawbacks and does not accurately replicate environmental exposure field conditions. The objective of this research is to develop and assess a new standard test method for evaluating the freeze-thaw durability of SRW blocks that obtains reproducible results and offers sufficient information on the freeze-thaw performance for SRW block manufacturers and state highway agencies (SHAs). The research completed a preliminary proof of concept test for the new freezethaw test method developed using small, commercially available SRW blocks to mitigate potential problems and establish appropriate test parameters. The testing produced results of freeze-thaw degradation that followed the same modes of failure that has been discovered during field evaluations. After the proof of concept test was completed, a series of freeze-thaw tests were conducted using sets of SHA approved and non-SHA approved SRW blocks. Three different manufacturers?????? SRW blocks were evaluated. There was no significant freezethaw degradation of any of the blocks after 200 freeze-thaw cycles, so for two blocks, experiments were extended to 400 cycles using a twelve-hour freeze-thaw cycle. The modification of the test did not result in more rapid deterioration of the SRW blocks. The researchers found that the freeze-thaw durability test method developed herein is beneficial for determining the freeze-thaw performance of the lower quality specified blocks. The test method gives realistic results, which match typical deterioration modes that are common in field settings, in a timely manner. However, the test method for testing SHA quality SRW blocks takes longer times and may not be a reasonable test for such products.