Paving on hold for warmer weather

PARKERSBURG – Still chilly temperatures mean it may be several weeks before asphalt plants reopen, but crews are already patching roads and filling in potholes throughout the city.

Rick Lemley, Public Works director for the city of Parkersburg, said crews will have to wait a while longer before beginning citywide repaving projects. While temperatures are expected to increase this weekend and into next week, forecasters are warning chilly temperatures may not yet be done.

Officials have said this year’s wild weather, swinging between bitter winter temperatures and spring-like highs, coupled with a mix of rain, snow and ice, have caused damage to roads throughout the region.

But asphalt manufacturers can’t begin producing new asphalt until the weather gets warmer and stays that way for a while. Lemley said until those plants open, paving plans are on hold.

“We won’t know when we will get our asphalt until those plants are open again,” he said. “Once that happens we will start making plans.”

But Lemley said patching happens throughout the year regardless of weather. Crews use different techniques to repair roads during the summer months.

One of the department’s newest machines is an asphalt reclaimer. The city purchased the unit in 2010, and officials said it has served them well.

“We’re satisfied with what it does,” Lemley said. “It helps us get areas patched quickly.”

The machine, which operates on propane, heats a 6-by-8 foot section of asphalt, making it malleable for workers to dig up the patch with a shovel. The old asphalt is blended with a small amount of new mix and put back down. The patch is refilled with the existing asphalt.

“If it is just cracks in the road, we can heat that, grade it and rake it to get it smooth again,” said street crew foreman Ralph Fox. “If there is a pothole, we can use the recycled asphalt to fill that in.”

Fox said the melting process takes about 15 minutes per patch and welds the new asphalt to the old, making it seamless.

“It allows us to recycle the blacktop and make it look new,” he said.

Crews also use a cold mix of asphalt to fill in holes on busier streets. Those temporary patches last until the summer months when entire streets can be graded and repaved.

Officials said the streets in most need of repair are often owned by the state. These heavily traveled roads tend to receive more wear and tear, and state crews plan repairs for blocks of time, so it may seem longer before those streets are repaired and repaved.