When it comes to nasty potholes proliferating along county roads, Whitley County has found an economical and long-lasting solution, its highway director says.
The secret is to repair the roads from the bottom up, not just patch or fill the damaged areas from the top, Whitley County highway director Michael Barton said.
The county’s road reclamation program involves using a road-milling machine to break up the damaged roads. Crews then mix the crushed material with new stones, building a 4- to 5-inch base on top of the old road, Barton said.
“We then add liquid calcium chloride to stabilize and harden the road,” Barton said.
Barton has been using the same type of reclamation program for nearly 40 years – 34 years as the Huntington County highway director and the past five years in Whitley County.
Whitley County has 640 miles of roads to maintain, he said. About 100 miles are gravel roads and most of the others are chip and seal – a stone base for the road, a pre-layer of asphalt on the stone, then a layer of liquid asphalt on that and finally a thin layer of stone on top.
The process costs about $50,000 to $55,000 per mile, depending how much road base material is used, he said.
On the other hand, a more costly asphalt coating is about $40,000 per mile for a one-inch coating or $120,000 for a 3-inch layer.
“Most counties don’t have that kind of money except the larger ones,” Barton said, “and even putting an inch of asphalt on a bad chip and seal road would be a waste. It would probably break up in two to three years, and then you’re right back where you started.”
After department workers add calcium chloride, the road is graded, rolled and left to cure through the winter.
The following spring, roads are double coated, followed by another top coat the following year.
The roads should last eight to 10 years without anything else being done, Barton said.
When it does come time for maintenance, the cost is minimal, about $10,000 a mile, he said.
“The road is very durable and hard because of the calcium chloride,” he said. “That is why we live by the chip and seal process, which is still a hard surface road.”
When chip and seal roads with marginal bases are simply coated with another layer of chip and seal, it shortens the life of the road and will usually have to be redone in a couple of years, Barton said.
The department sets aside about 20 miles of roads for the reclamation program each year.
Admittedly, things like heavy trucks, bad drainage and a harsh winter can shorten the longevity, he said.
Crews won’t start working on the reclamation project until late spring and do not know the full extent of damage, if any, that this winter has had on the roads, but Barton is thinking positive.
“Prayer works while we’re waiting for winter to get over and spring to start,” he said.