Road crews face uphill battle

Extended freeze-thaw conditions cause havoc, potholes on area highways

Posted: Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Area roads have taken a beating with an unusually extended month of moderate temperatures. The constant freezing and cooling, expanding and contracting of road tops have kept road crews busy.

Carl High, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities district superintendent, said the conditions have caused challenges.

"It's an uphill battle out there. All the rain on top of this slush causes some problems. This could really bring out the potholes," he said.

High said this temperate season has been stressful on the Kenai Spur Highway.

"We've had the Spur on our wish list for a couple of years. It could use something, even if it's just a basic overlay. Until then, we'll have to make do," he said.

According to Tom Boedeker, Soldotna city manager, it does not look like the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) and Needs List has the Kenai Spur Highway listed as a priority at this point.

"We monitor the roads and make comments on the state plan," Boedeker said. "Every year they come back and do rankings and recommendations. Some of our concerns have been with the Spur because traffic has increased. There have been quite a few new residences built there since the last time it was retopped."

Increased traffic on the Spur doesn't yet rank the road high enough for improvements, however.

"We have to ask ourselves if the conditions require a rebuild," Boedeker said. "That answer is no. We've had more concerns with Sterling Highway, actually. There is a high amount of traffic traveling at high speeds."

Boedeker said the the older and more battered Spur has seen better days.

"Spur is several years old. The state used a different type of asphalt than what they are using now."

Boedeker said the season has indeed been rough on the roads.

"The question is how vicious the freeze and thaw cycle is going to get. A little chip in the pavement causes water to seep in and freezes. That can really tear apart a road," he said.

Carl High said the DOT expenditures are up slightly this season.

"Overtime is slightly above average as well as the contracting we have done. Year to date, we've gone through a lot more sand than usual. Our guys are out there patching potholes in their overtime." High said road maintenance personnel use a blend of asphalt and binder called "cold mix" to patch potholes.

"We are way ahead of what we normally use in cold mix," he said.

High said that with the roads being the way they are, people need to slow down and use some common sense.

"Especially stay clear of driving blindly into standing water because there could be a pothole. Hitting it going too fast could cause serious damage to themselves or others."

With more than 6,000 miles of state and city roads to maintain, Gary Davis, director of Borough Maintenance, said the slushy roads have been a major factor in road wear.

"We have never experienced such an icy experience for such an extended amount of time. From our standpoint, we're spending $400,000 a month with a $2.2 million budget. So this is an expensive issue."

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