Yes, Lincoln, that does look like toilet paper sticking to the cracked city streets.
Because it is. Standard-issue, single-ply.
And it’s allowing repair crews to cover many more miles of road than in the past.
“We got a lot more accomplished this fall than we have in a long time, because we decided to take a chance on this,” said Clay Engelman, a district supervisor in the city's street and traffic operations division.
A crack in a street can fill with water, and that water can freeze and expand and produce potholes. To prevent that, the city seals the cracks with tar.
But it can take as long as 40 minutes for the tar to firm up enough so it doesn’t splatter on — and stick to — passing traffic. That was all down time for workers, who had nothing to do but wait for the sealant to cool before moving to the next stretch of street.
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“With the toilet paper, it’s instant,” Engelman said. “As soon as we lay down the tar, we can lay down the toilet paper and it takes away the stickiness. It covers it up so cars can drive on it immediately.”
A city worker slips the paper onto a long-handled paint roller and follows the trail of tar. Engelman’s crew can unfurl 24 rolls during a busy work week.
The toilet paper is biodegradable, he said, and washes away in even a light rain. They learned from the mistakes of others not to use two-ply, because the second layer separates and makes a mess.
The use of toilet paper isn’t a new technique, but Lincoln had resisted it – largely out of fear of getting complaints about its appearance, Engelman said.
“A lot of people were concerned we were going to get calls from people not liking the look of it.”
That didn’t happen, although his shop did get a few calls wondering what they were using and why.