Ask the Architect

The logic of road repair

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Q. Last year my street was repaved, and now I see cracks, which I expect will get worse. I seal my driveway every few years, and it looks and works very well, without any cracking or damage. The cost to seal is pennies on the dollar compared with what it would cost to grind up and have redone, which I’ve never had to do since the driveway was first paved nearly 20 years ago. Every 10 years or so, my street is completely ground up, causing disruption and inconvenience and, I imagine, adding to my taxes. The street has been redone twice in the past 20 years, and will need to be done again soon, since it becomes a sea of potholes and causes damage to cars before it gets repaved. I see private-property parking lots get more attention, and I wonder, isn’t it better to invest in maintenance instead of wasting taxpayers’ money on waiting to do a huge repaving project? Do you get involved in this kind of work, and if so, what do you advise?

A.It doesn’t take a roads scholar to figure out that maintenance could save millions of dollars and avoid the kind of disruption you describe. That disruption, especially on main roads, hurts commerce by keeping shoppers away from businesses. It also causes delays for people going to and from work, all of which contributes to the overall loss of business income and revenue.

I saw, firsthand, in Germany, that they seal their roads rather than wait for them to deteriorate, and build them with a stronger base, since the base strength is a major factor in whether a road can resist the damage caused by repeated flexing from heavy vehicles. If you’ve ever noticed signs restricting weights of truck traffic, one reason is to keep roads from buckling, which is what happens when trucks regularly drive on them.

We design professionals plan parking fields for private use, but can only hope our clients follow a maintenance schedule instead of waiting for the pavement to crumble. Most private parking fields get repair and sealing more often than public streets, mainly for the reason you pointed out — economics. Private entities, from religious buildings to shopping centers, restaurants and retail properties, all need to be much more prudent with their funds and more careful to prevent legal problems from trip-and-fall lawsuits and vehicle damage.

As for public roads, I’ve inquired about why they don’t seal them instead of waiting for them to fall apart. Several public-sector engineers have explained budgeting, problems with repainting the lines, etc. I’m also curious about cost analysis. Lines on the road, to the sides and center, aren’t in the general path of the greatest wear. Roads and Bridges and Professional Engineering magazines have reported on this subject, and state highway authorities do seal pavement as a cost savings. Machines are made for this purpose. Please write with constructive answers. Good question.

© 2019 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.