Water in roads: Flow paths and pollutant spread

Abstract: For better road construction and maintenance while minimising damage to the environment and groundwater, it is essential to monitor and model hydrological impacts on roads and consider pollution of groundwater. Water content in unbound material in road layers changes continuously and water flow usually occurs along pathways that are the main corridors for pollutant spread to groundwater. Good awareness of hydrological conditions and of water and solute transport in road layers down to the groundwater can be helpful in minimising environmental impacts during construction and operation. Today, road planning is usually carried out without specifically considering hydrological criteria. To improve understanding of the links between water in roads and groundwater, this thesis developed investigation methods and used numerical simulations for estimating seasonal variations, flow pathways and pollutant spread.Seasonal changes in road water content in an operational road, tracer tests pathways from the road shoulder and percolation down to groundwater were monitored non-destructively using electrical resistivity tomography (ERT). Chloride concentration changes were estimated based on ERT data inversion. New monitoring methodology was assessed and data analysis was performed on ERT data from different road zones and layers, which were analysed statistically and correlated to precipitation, temperature and ground moisture content. Data were collected at a unique road test station on a motorway north-west of Stockholm and in tracer experiments on typical roads in southern and central Sweden. Two-dimensional (2D) models of heat and moisture changes were prepared for a road section, considering vapour pressure and frozen water content changes using partial differential equations (PDE). Model parameters were optimised based on soil moisture and temperature data from the E18 road test station. A PDE model was used for calculating liquid water and ice content changes in different scenarios based on geometry and design changes. Both pathways and travel times were traced by 2D and pseudo 3D inverse modelling of the ERT measurements.The field data revealed clear preferential pathways of moisture and salt in the road shoulders that varied significantly during different seasons. Most infiltration occurred directly into the road shoulder, but entered the road embankment with higher percolation speed in modern roads than in old roads consisting of natural soils. The simulations showed that seasonal climate changes and the upper boundary condition were key factors determining water content in different road layers. These findings advance understanding of water in roads and represent a step towards more sustainable and environmental friendly road construction and maintenance. In addition the research results give lessons for practice both regarding monitoring and road construction. For monitoring it provides a new method in data collection and analysis. For construction and maintenance, mitigation measures are suggested, which comprise a tight road shoulder, by e.g. adding a fine grained layer on the shoulder or covering with vegetation.