American Society of Civil Engineers

Reduced Tire Pressure: Review of an Alternate Road Usage Technique for Reducing Springtime Damage on Low Volume Roads

by Maureen A. Kestler, (USDA Forest Service, 719 Main Street, Laconia, NH 03246 E-mail:, Richard L. Berg, (FROST Associates, 6 Floyd Ave, West Lebanon 03784, NH E-mail:, Sae-Im Nam, (Research Scientist, Hanover, NH 03755 E-mail:, and Charles E. Smith, (US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, Lyme Road, Hanover, NH 03755 E-mail:
Section: Street and Roadway Management Systems, pp. 382-393, (doi:

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Document type: Conference Proceeding Paper
Part of: Cold Regions Engineering: Cold Regions Impacts on Transportation and Infrastructure
Abstract: Although major highways are designed to withstand high volumes of traffic year round, low volume roads are highly susceptible to damage from trafficking during spring thaw. To reduce pavement damage, states, counties, and Federal agencies often post load restriction signs. However, companies whose livelihood depends on trucking can suffer major economic losses while waiting for thawing roads to recover and load restriction signs to be removed. Additionally, restriction-exempt vehicles, e.g., snowplow, fuel, and garbage trucks, can cause damage on closed, roads during spring thaw. Pavement damage can be particularly severe in regions with multiple freeze-thaw cycles. Similar damage occurs in non-frost climates during wet seasons. The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service has conducted extensive studies showing significant benefits are derived from using trucks with reduced tire pressures on gravel- and non-surfaced roads: Aggregate design thickness can be reduced by up to 50%, reduced rutting results in reduced required maintenance/grading, erosion can be reduced by up to 84%, tire life is increased, and a smoother vehicle ride results in reduced driver injury and fewer vehicle repairs. The Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada and other agencies have conducted further studies, all of which show appreciable reduction in road damage by using reduced tire pressure. In seasonal frost areas, road maintenance agencies can either shorten the length of the seasonal road closure by allowing lower tire pressure vehicles to resume hauling before full recovery is achieved (yet produce no more damage than on a fully recovered road with conventional tire pressures) or shorten the road closure season even more by allowing hauling with reduced tire pressure to yield an acceptable level of damage. This paper provides a non-technical discussion of several tire pressure studies, the results of which can be used to develop an alternate road usage technique to optimize the balance between reducing road damage and maximizing truck-dependent local economies, particularly in seasonal frost areas.

ASCE Subject Headings:
Freeze and thaw
Highway and road conditions
Tire-pavement interaction