Rough ride on Route 22 will drag into next year

Q: Regarding the resurfacing project on Route 22 in Northampton County: Now that the eastbound surface has been torn up for two months, causing havoc with thousands of tires and shock absorbers, it appears that someone forgot to complete the job. When can we expect this stretch of highway to receive a new pavement?

— Matt Pollack, Easton, Aug. 13

 

Q: The road surface on eastbound Route 22 around Easton, from 25th Street through Cemetery Curve to the New Jersey border, has been 'scraped up' for approximately two months now. Usually work crews take up old asphalt just prior to repaving, but that is obviously not the case here. I know crews are working there at night. Why is this project taking so long, and when it will be completed?

— Milissa Bolcar, Bethlehem, Sept. 10

 

A: Ken Miller of Bethlehem Township steered a similar question into the email garage last week, proof that that the craggy, milled surface of Route 22 between the Fourth and 25th street interchanges continues to give drivers a rough ride.

Initially scheduled for completion by the end of October, the project is seriously behind schedule, and only half of it — the eastbound lanes — will be done this year, according to PennDOT spokesman Sean Brown. Work on the westbound side could get started later this year, but officials decided against that because the threat of winter weather could pose safety risks, Brown said. A torn-up road is bad enough, but an icy surface on top of it would be unacceptable, for example.

It's taking much longer than expected, Brown said, mostly because far more work is needed than had been anticipated. Testing that's needed to determine the scope of the work can't be done until the road is milled, down to its concrete base, he said.

In some cases, generally on smaller roads with less traffic, "mill and pave" operations are simpler, as crews use the milling machines to grind off worn layers of asphalt and quickly add a new layer, sometimes an extra-thin "microsurface" coating, as a means of squeezing extra miles' worth of life out of the road. In those cases the milling, in which rotating grinding wheels that resemble circular-saw blades spaced tightly together remove the top layer, is the only step required before the new asphalt is applied.

The Route 22 resurfacing, because of the heavy-duty traffic load on this limited-access highway, entails an extra layer of work: significant "base repair," which includes not only filling depressions and sealing cracks in the concrete base, but also removing and replacing sometimes large pieces of concrete down to the crushed-stone subsurface on which the roadway rests, according to Pat Conner, PennDOT's regional transportation construction manager.

The shortcut explanation is that, after the asphalt surface is removed, engineers use deflection testing equipment (there are several types and methods) to determine how much the slabs of concrete that make up the highway deflect, or move, beneath the weight of traffic. Sections of slab found to be moving too much need to be repaired and stabilized. Large pieces are removed using saws that slice into concrete, and the voids are filled by new, fast-setting concrete stabilized by 11/2-inch thick steel dowels anchored to the adjoining "good" sections of concrete, Conner said.

All of this testing and repair takes a good deal more time and effort than the standard mill-and-pave operations, and it's needed on heavily traveled four-lane roads like Route 22 to ensure maximum endurance from the new asphalt layer to come, Brown said. The road will be taking a Hummer's worth of punishment, torquing up the importance of a stable base.

But the biggest speed bump arose when the deflection testing revealed substantially more sections of concrete needed to be removed and replaced, he said. Some hot weather during which the deflection equipment could not be used was also a factor, though a compact model, according to Brown.

The work also includes sections of new guardrail and signs, and even some of the heavy roadside tree and shrub trimming and removal that some folks (including me) consider excessive, but PennDOT insists is necessary to maintain sight lines and remove obstructions in a cost-effective manner.

For a sense of the scope of this work on the roughly three-mile stretch of 22 — or about 12 "lane miles" on the four-lane highway — Lehigh Valley Site Contractors of Lower Mount Bethel Township secured the contract with a bid of $7.15 million. Work began just after Independence Day weekend and was expected to be completed by the end of October. Instead, only the eastbound lanes will be done by then, and all of the westbound work will be pushed ahead to next year's construction season.

A similar project on Route 248 between routes 33 and 22 got off the starting line sooner, in early March of this year, and the wet spring slogged things down such that that $3.36 million project by J.D. Eckman Inc. of Atglen, Chester County also could take longer than expected, officials said. Also entailing guardrail work, some new pedestrian ramps and storm-water improvements, that job was scheduled for completion by the end of this month, but might be extended through November.

Has there been no positive traffic driving these two road projects? OK, here's something: To PennDOT's credit, officials specified that work on both jobs be conducted at night, with lane restrictions imposed only between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. (and on Route 22, Friday and Saturday nights are off-limits as well). That extends the duration of the work, but it's a trade-off I'll take any time. The real nightmares spring from daytime restrictions, particularly on Route 22, the road Lehigh Valley motorists love to hate.

"I understand people's concern," Brown said, adding that PennDOT has gotten some complaints about the coarse ride and the duration of the projects. He could only advise us to ease off the accelerator to help smooth the ride a bit.

Road Warrior appears Mondays and Fridays, and the Warrior blogs at mcall.com. Email questions about roadways, traffic and transportation, with your name and the municipality where you live, to hartzell@mcall.com, or write to Road Warrior, Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105-1260.

mc-route-22-paving-20120913
 
Advertisement

PHOTO GALLERIES

TOP VIDEO

CONNECT WITH US


2013 YEAR IN REVIEW
Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Google Plus
  • RSS Feeds
  • Mobile Alerts and Apps