Lancaster County hopes to get more value out of its roads and ultimately prevent potholes by introducing an alternative pavement surface using chip seals.
Chip seals use a combination of tar and a quarter-inch of quartzite to create a surface on top of the asphalt and better protect it from rain and snow, which may ultimately prevent potholes from forming.
The county recently contracted to chip-seal two roads — North 148th Street from O Street to Waverly and Raymond Road from Nebraska 79 to Branched Oak Lake.
It's the first time the county has done chip sealing and it's something that could save both time and money in the future, says Lancaster County Engineer Pam Dingman.
"We're really trying to get out in front of maintenance and prevent getting to that pothole point," she said.
Dingman said the introduction of chip sealing represents a change in philosophy regarding the health of the county's roads. When she was elected county engineer in 2014, nearly 100 miles of roads needed to be milled and overlaid.
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"Our maintenance needs were so large that it wasn't feasible," she said, in explaining the delay in implementing chip seals.
That number has since been halved to about 50 miles of road, allowing Dingman and the county to begin chip sealing some of them.
Robert Rea, assistant materials and research engineer at the Nebraska Department of Transportation, said chip sealing has been used in some capacity in Nebraska since the 1930s.
The process is about one-sixth of the cost compared with traditional mill and overlay methods.
"They work, that is why they are still being used since the 1930s," Rea said in an email. "They are cost-effective, quick to construct and protect our roadway investment."
Dingman said using chip seals costs the county between $35,000 to $40,000 per mile for each resurfaced road and takes a couple of days to complete, about one-third of the time as other methods.
Cost-effectiveness, coupled with the 5-7-year life cycle the surface provides, could make chip sealing a mainstay across the county, Dingman said.
While it won't completely phase out traditional road preservation methods, such as mill and overlay, Dingman said it's a step toward extending the lifespan of county roads without breaking the bank.
"We're looking for the most economical way to preserve our roads," she said.
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