Three-Year Pilot Could Improve Bloomington's Residential Streets | WGLT

Three-Year Pilot Could Improve Bloomington's Residential Streets

Aug 19, 2017

Area car repair shops have been in high gear this summer, in part, because of many of 240 miles of residential streets in Bloomington are in such bad shape. Many rate a three on a 10-scale with 10 as the best.

City Public Works Director Jim Karch will ask the Bloomington City Council in the next couple of months to approve a three-year pilot to devote a half-million dollars a year to create a new city paving crew that would include additional workers and new equipment to do nothing but improve residential streets.

Here is a document to explains the city's current approach to street resurfacing. You can also read the first part of this series on the condition of Bloomington's streets.

City crews mill out a strip of deteriorating pavement and put down a strip of replacement pavement that could last for years. These so called permanent patches last years longer than pothole repairs.
Credit City of Bloomington website

An experiment using city crews for a larger paving project on Lafayette Street east of Main Streets showed flaws.

“We didn’t have the right equipment. We’re using a hand-throwing operation with a small roller. The quality was not what our crews were happy with. It was too bouncy.”

After that test, Karch was convinced, “You need the right equipment for that size operation and because of the need we’re trying to do things differently.”

Another Experiment

Karch wants to test whether his department, with additional employees and better equipment, can tackle repaving many of the city’s residential streets at a better rate than outside contractors.

“We need to be cost-effective with it (small paving crew) and I believe we can be,” said Karch. “If we added small paving equipment… the right size roller, can we be more cost-effective per-ton than an outside contractor?  If we can do that we’re going to say then we need those resources so we can expand it.”

Karch says he has visited the city of Wheaton, west of Chicago in DuPage County, which has found city crews can improve residential streets for less money and on a faster pace than contractors.

Wheaton Streets Supervisor Mike Wakefield says city crews tackled nearly six miles of residential street re-paving the previous year and will be on track to do the same this summer.

“We have streamlined our operation with more efficient paving and milling equipment and sent the entire department to hands on training with Local 150 union operators,” said Wakefield. He added morale is up too. “After this investment in our people and equipment, our paving quality jumped as well as the attitude (of employees).”

City Explored Operating Asphalt Plant

The city has experimented with sealants to extend the life of residential streets. Here is a before and after photo of west Jackson Street before coating and nine days later.
Credit City of Bloomington website

When Karch began working for the city in 2000, a year in which no money was spent on streets, he wanted to explore the idea of a city-run and operated asphalt plant. So once he became public works director in 2009 he launched a fact-finding initiative.

“We looked at the up-front capital costs. What would it take? Who else is doing it? Can we go see it? Is it working?” Karch inquired. “As of a couple of years ago, we revisited it again.”

But he said there were prohibitive hurdles.

“That wasn’t the right path to go down. There were issues such as the initial up-front capital costs of course for the larger asphalt plant.” He added, “Some places in Florida do it but it really is economies of scale. You have to have enough users that it’s worth it.”

But he believes as technology changes, municipalities might begin building and operating smaller asphalt plants with fewer environmental problems.

Karch's residential street paving proposal would be on top of his recommendation that starting next fiscal year the city begin spending $8 million per year for the next decade of the city's most heavily traveled streets.

Future Streets

In addition to pavement treatments that in some cases can double the life of the surface, there is technology that includes additives to make asphalt stiffer and reduce carbon emissions but it has yet to be perfected.

Normal Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich says he has read about technology that captures energy from cars driving over pavement, and he’s fascinated by new ideas including the latest in a video purporting future streets could be made from solar panels.

“They’re all interesting and may have great impacts on generating power in the future, but I think there’s a lot more research that has to be done and a good understanding of the cost-benefit analysis over the life of the pavement,” he added.

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