January 20, 2022

Road wear concerns

County takes new approach to upkeep

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland County Highway Department workers “spray patch” on rough portions of East River Road in Homer. The department is reassessing road maintenance after roads repaired last year showed substantial wear and tear.

HOMER — Gravel and stones clink and rattle inside the wheel well of your car about the entire length of East River Road in Homer.

Every few yards, the center line of the road has vanished, replaced with piles of gravel.

“That tells you something is wrong,” said Ed Seales, who has lived on East River Road since 2009. “It is a testimony to how well it (the road) is wearing.”

From the look of the road, it may be hard to tell is was repaired last year by the Cortland County Highway Department.

“It is like a cow path,” Seales said. “It looks like it needs to be done again.”

It may, along with other roads the Highway Department worked on last year that have raised similar concerns.

There were enough complaints to warrant a meeting with Highway Superintendent Phil Krey, legislators and town supervisors, said county Highway Committee Chairman Chris Newell (R-Cortlandville).

Roads to be monitored

The five roads the county worked on last year with its former process:

• East River Road
• Crains Mills Road
• Freetown Crossroad
• Song Mountain Road
• Song Lake Road

Newell said the group discussed what was done to the roads last year, how they’ve held up and laid out a solution to fix them The five roads the department did last year were East River Road, Crains Mills Road, Freetown Crossroad, Song Mountain Road and Song Lake Road.

The problems many have complained about are more potholes than usual, the center of the road not holding up and stone everywhere.

The department will do its usual repairs, such as filling potholes, and will put down a 2-foot-wide layer of oil and stone down the center line of the roads that need it because the snow plows took off the oil and stone previously laid down, Krey said. If the roads seem like they need further repair, Krey said the department will regrind them, using a new method.

First, they’ll grind both shoulders to establish the shoulder where the ditch is, Krey said. Then, gravel will be put down on the road and the department will grind it. Calcium chloride will be added to help keep the dust down and help stabilize the base.

When that is done, the road is left for three weeks to let the calcium chloride settle. Then oil and stone will be put down.

Krey said the department will modify its grinding pattern, ensuring there is an equal number of grind passes and making sure there is no flat area in the center of the road.

Last year, the production target was three quarters of a mile a day, which was too fast, Krey said. This year, the target will be a half mile a day.

“I believe the difference will be substantial,” Krey said. “These existing roads we did, we’ll repair them and see how they hold up.”

The reason the department did not use this method before is a couple of years ago it did tests on a 3-mile section of West State Road, testing six different methods. The one that held up the best, at the time, was the one without using magnesium chloride –– similar to the calcium chloride they’ll use now. But Krey said the calcium chloride will assist with the stabilization of the road, helping to provide a better product.

Also, the department used the road grinding machine it purchased last year for the first time. Krey acknowledged there was a learning curve with it.

Seales said learning on the job should not have been done on taxpayer dollars. Every step of the road work last year were making residents more agitated, he said.

Krey said he now knows what adjustments to make.

“I’m confident things will go smoother than last year,” Krey said. “We’ll end up with less potholes going further.”

The new process will first be tested on a half-mile span of Chenango Road come May, Krey said. The department will monitor how well it works before implementing it on all other roads.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Newell said. “I think the results could be pretty good.” Krey did not have the cost of redoing some of the roads immediately available, but said the department does have funding in its budget for repairs.

Seales said he understands the Highway Department was working with the best intentions last year, but he fears anything it may have done to save money may cost more in the end.