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24 September 2013 Subject: Applying tack coat over prime coat: fundamentally not necessary and gross waste

of Indias resources ! Dear Highway Colleague: Are you applying tack coat over prime coat? If so, it is fundamentally not necessary and it is a sheer waste of Indias resources. Unfortunately, MORTH orange book (2013) Section 503 Tack Coat and Indian Roads Congress IRC: 16-2008 Code for Prime Coat and Tack Coat require tack coat over prime coat. Before we examine why the tack coat over prime coat is not necessary, lets review the functions and requirements of prime coat and tack coat. Prime Coat Prime coat consisting of low-viscosity bituminous binder is applied to an unbound, granular base course to prepare it for overlaying with the first bituminous course. Typically, the unbound base course in India consists of wet mix macadam (WMM), also called crushed stone base course in some developed countries such as the United States. Pavement engineers have mentioned the following functions of a prime coat in a flexible (bituminous) pavement system: To coat and stabilize loose particles on the surface of the unbound base. To harden or toughen the base surface so as to avoid potential damage from construction equipment To protect the base course surface from wet weather by providing a temporary waterproofing layer For the prime coat to function properly, it should generally meet the following requirements: The prime coat material should penetrate at least 8-10 mm into the unbound base course. The material should normally be absorbed within 48 hours. Excess prime coat should be blotted by applying sand. [Asphalt paving technologists have reported that no prime coat is better than excessive prime coat because the latter can be detrimental to the flexible pavement.] In the past, medium curing cutback bitumens such as MC-30 and MC-70 were used effectively for prime coat. Many state highway agencies have now changed over from cutback bitumens (cutbacks) to emulsified bitumens (emulsions) due to environmental considerations. However, it has been found that generally emulsions do not penetrate the unbound surface as much as cutbacks. Since the bitumen residue from the emulsion simply lays on the surface with minimal penetration, its effectiveness as a prime coat is questionable. Due to this prevailing problem, many states in the US make an exception and allow the use of MC-30 and MC-70 cutbacks in prime coat. The Indian Roads Congress (IRC) is now also allowing these cutbacks for prime coat in the revised IRC: 16-2008 Standard Specifications for Prime and Tack Coat.

Besides the preceding problems associated with the use of emulsions in prime coat, many pavement engineers have even questioned the very utility (need) of prime coat in the flexible pavement structural system. It is especially so when the total thickness of overlying bituminous courses exceeds 100 mm (4 inches) or so. The US Asphalt Institute has recently stated, At one time it was thought that a prime coat was an essential element of good pavement construction. However, in recent years some engineers have eliminated the use of a prime, especially when asphalt layer(s) (surface and/or base) is 4 inches or more in thickness. In many instances, prime coats have not been used even when surface thickness has been as thin as 2 inches. Over the past 20 years, few, if any, pavement failures can be attributed to the lack of prime coat. Tack Coat Tack coat is used to bind together different bituminous courses such as base course, binder course, and surface course so all combined function as a monolith. Typically, flexible pavement thickness design for the bituminous component is based on this assumption. If there is a lack of bond between say 40-mm thick surface course and the underlying binder course, the pavement largely functions as though the bituminous pavement is only 40 mm thick, resulting in fatigue cracks and/or slippage cracks. Therefore, a good tack coat between courses is so vital for the bituminous component to function as desired. Tack Coat over Prime Coat So now comes the question of applying tack coat over prime coat! Is it fundamentally necessary? In flexible pavement structural design, it is assumed that the total bituminous component acts like a flexing beam under traffic loads. The objective is to provide enough thickness to this beam so that its bending action (deflection) is minimal (it cannot be eliminated altogether) and the resulting tensile strain at the bottom is also minimal and does not initiate cracks at the bottom easily. It is not expected that the unbound base under the beam would also bend as a monolith with the beam. The unbound base hardly has any tensile strength. Therefore, it would be futile to bind (tack) the interface between the underlying unbound base course and the beam. A simple analogy is in order to explain it further. Lets assume we have to construct a temporary, passable road with stacked wooden planks over clayey soil. First, we may spread granular material such as sand over clayey soil. To facilitate placing wooden planks over the sand, we may want to stabilize the surface of the sand somewhat with a prime coat. We do want to bind (tack) all the wooden planks together so that they work as a monolith with minimum bending under traffic. Obviously, bending would always take place at the bottom of the wooden plank, that is, at the interface of the plank and sand. Therefore, any attempt to bind (tack) the wooden plank with the underlying sand would be meaningless and futile. If some tack coat is applied between the sand and wooden plank, some sand would simply stick to the bottom of the plank without contributing anything to the total system. It has also been alleged that sometimes only one application of SS-1 emulsion is applied as prime coat and the application of RS-1 as tack coat is intentionally skipped; but both are entered in the measurement book after the bituminous course is laid.

There is no easy way to determine later if two applications of emulsion were actually used, which encourages fraud. Also, tack coat over prime coat acts as excessive prime coat, which as mentioned earlier is detrimental to the flexible pavement. It should be clear from the preceding explanation that applying tack coat over prime coat is fundamentally unnecessary and is wastage of Indias resources. Having worked in the US, the writer knows that tack coat is not applied over prime coat there and the US roads are among the best in the world. What to talk about tack coat, even the prime coat is not being applied in many cases as mentioned earlier. [However, the writer being a conservative engineer believes we should continue applying the prime coat on WMM.] According to the writers enquiries with highway colleagues in Canada, South America, Europe and Australia, tack coat is not applied over prime coat there. We can continue this practice if our roads are among the best! Typically, bitumen emulsion tack coat is applied @ 0.30 kg/sq m over the prime coat as per Indian codes. Cost of applying the emulsion tack coat at this rate is Rs. 12.35 per sq m as per Rajasthan PWD Basic Schedule of Rates. Therefore, the cost of applying tack coat on one km-lane (4 m wide) would be Rs. 49,400. As per available figures for 2012-13, about 2900 km of national highways were constructed and also about the same 2900 km of non-national highway roads were constructed. Although national highways might have included 6 lanes or 4 lanes, it is conservative to consider 2-lane highways as average. This means about 11,600 kmlanes were constructed across India in 2012-13. This means about 57.3 crores of rupees were wasted in just one year by unnecessarily applying tack coat over prime coat. If this practice is stopped, India would also need to import less petroleum crude oil because bitumen in the emulsion is obtained from crude oil. In view of the preceding technical justifications and extent of wastage of taxpayers money and Indias resources, the MORTH should immediately issue a corrigendum to the 2013 Orange Book Specifications for Road and Bridge Works eliminating the requirement of tack coat over prime coat. Time is of essence. Since it is so obvious, there is no need for MORTH to deliberate with the Indian Roads Congress because that would unnecessarily delay the matter. In the meantime, project engineers must use common sense, show their guts, and eliminate this requirement from the project to realize savings in the interest of our country. Sincerely, Prof. Prithvi Singh Kandhal Jaipur pkandhal@gmail.com American roads are good not because America is rich, but America is rich because American roads are good. - John F. Kennedy Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -Margaret Mead