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Crack sealing attempts to buy time for road improvements

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University Place Public Works road crews snaked through the city for about three weeks in August, laying down 14,625 pounds of hot asphalt sealer into cracks in the pavement, helping to prevent water from getting under the pavement and ultimately causing pot holes and roadway failure.
It’s a battle of time as well as dollars, since $1 not spent on preventative road work could lead to $8 in road costs after just a few years.
Gary Cooper, University Place Public Works Direc tor, likens it to maintaining a car. Cars require periodic oil changes to not only run properly but to operate longer. Frequent oil changes and tune ups can keep a car on the road for 300,000 miles. Ignoring oil changes or engine rattles can lead a car to a premature death, as can happen to untended streets of asphalt.

“Asphalt is made of oil, and it breaks down over time,” Cooper said.
As the oil breaks down in the road, cracks appear. Water flows into those cracks and washes out the underlining rock and gives birth to pot holes and crumbling roadways. Although the spider web of sealed cracks might not look
as pretty as a new roadway, the work is key to efforts to prolong the life of the road and keep repairs to a minimum.
“Unless you spill your cup of coffee in the morning, you think the road is fine,” Cooper said.

It’s not. Small cracks might seem insignif icant, but they lead to big troubles if left unrepaired. And many U.P. streets are overdue for tuneups.
A city the size of U.P. generally has a pavement maintenance budget of about $950,000 a year. The City’s current pavement maintenance fund is only $95,000 and has been for years, so stretching dollars now is largely delaying higher costs in future years. It’s the same practice Tacoma followed for about 30 years that lead to the pothole fiesta and the voter-approved road packages last fall that the city needed to address.
Cooper submitted a budget request of $400,000, but doesn’t expect to get it since the City Council still has a budget shortfall even after announcing the end of recre ation programs next year and rising public safety costs.
“I don’t expect to get it, but I can at least put it on the radar,” Cooper said. “Times are tough on small cities. If the money isn’t there, the money isn’t there.”
Budget troubles, when it comes to roads, started with the passage of a series of car and gas tax initiatives voters approved almost a decade ago statewide. Those taxes had been funding road repairs, so the initiatives ended those rev enues flowing into municipal street budgets. Then the Great Recession hit in 2008, further sending city budgets around the state into flux. Preventative maintenance funds for roads were cut around Washington. Repairs not done back then are beginning to show their long term effects.
“Now you are starting to see it,” Cooper said. If you have questions about the City’s crack sealing efforts, please contact the Public Works Department at (253) 460-6493.

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