City pushes for chip sealing program

To take care of city streets on the desired schedule, the city would need an estimated $1 million to $1.5 million a year.

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Freshly applied tar takes on the lines of modern art on a section of a downtown Walla Walla street.

WALLA WALLA - Just like the thousands of structures that line their sides, roads also need regular maintenance.

Neglecting to roof or paint a house will usually hasten deterioration. But at least with a house it is usually just the inhabitants' and neighbors' property values that suffer.

But cracked, pothole- and bump-riddled roads rattle the vehicles and tempers of all who use them.

That's why the city is now pushing for a regular chip seal program, which like fresh paint on a house protects roads from the effects of harsh weather.

Chip seals are thin layers of asphalt and gravel applied over existing roads, and they need to happen every seven to 10 years, more or less, depending on road use and other factors.

Currently they just don't happen in the city, except on a rare occasion when funding is allocated, as has happened this year.

Last year saw the city's first chip seal project in several years, maybe even more than a decade, when a considerable section of Tausick Way was sprayed and covered with gravel, city engineer Neal Chavre said.

"That was the first time I remember doing any since I have been here, and that has been six years," Chavre said.

Now the city wants to establish a seven-year chip seal program for all of its roads in hopes of lengthening the average 20-25 year lifespan of asphalt roads.

According to the American Public Works Association, a chip seal or other similar maintenance every seven or eight years can keep a road at a "good" rating period beyond a quarter-century.

To chip seal the city's 140 miles of roads on this schedule, city crews would have to cover roughly 20 miles per year.

The problem is many of the city's roads are so deteriorated now that chip sealing would only seal up the bumpy conditions.

Overlays are what Chavre said are needed in most cases to fix Walla Walla's roads.

An overlay is a layer of asphalt laid and compacted over an existing paved surface that is still in fairly good condition.

The old pavement should still have adequate base support and the asphalt shouldn't be too broken, Chavre said.

Sometimes, a grind-down of the old road is needed before the overlay to fix cracks and level the road.

Grinds are also needed when the sidewalks, curbs or street fixtures require the pavement to be maintained at the same height.

So how much do chip seals and overlays cost?

On average, it costs $23,000 to chip seal one mile of an average 22-foot-wide road; overlays are considerably more expensive, at about $100,000 per mile; overlays with grinds cost about $127,000 per mile, Chavre said.

City officials estimate they will need $1 million to $1.5 million to begin an effective chip seal and overlay program.

If the city gets the funding, don't expect it to start with overlays of the worst roads.

Because chip sealing is far less expensive, and because it can extend the life of a road by decades, the city would aggressively focus on chip sealing a large number of its relatively newer and better roads.

Chavre explained that it wouldn't make sense to focus solely on overlays of the worst roads, while neglecting the newer roads to the point that they fall into a similar state of disrepair.

So if the city ever gets the funding it needs, don't be surprised if the majority of the initial work turns out to be chip sealing on roads that are already in good shape.

The goal is to keep them that way.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

how does the county do it?

Each year, county workers overlay, chip seal and repair millions of dollars in county road projects.

How do they come up with the money?

They are dedicated tax funds.

Each year, Walla Walla County residents pay $2.14 for every $1,000 of assessed property value to go directly toward funding road improvements.

The result is that the Walla Walla County Road Department receives about $4.8 million each year in dedicated road funds.

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