Micro-surfacing provides cost-effective solution

With limited budgets, three Massachusetts municipalities stretch their road maintenance dollars to maintain quality roads.

Roads that are in good to fair condition (with a rating of 60 to 70 percent) are ideal candidates for micro-surfacing.
Roads that are in good to fair condition (with a rating of 60 to 70 percent) are ideal candidates for micro-surfacing.

Like many road agencies across the county, Massachusetts' Town of Wilmington, the City of Methuen and the Town of Sutton must address their road maintenance needs with the limited dollars available to do so. With the help of Hingham, MA road contractor, Sealcoating Inc., the Department of Public Works for those three communities rely heavily on a preservation approach in an effort to keep their road networks in good order at a price that allows them to maximize their investment.

Don Onusseit, Wilmington's Public Works Superintendent, Jay Bonanno, Methuen's Highway Department Superintendent, and Mark Brigham, Sutton's Public Works Superintendent, all have become strong proponents of micro-surfacing road preservation primarily because it's a cost-effective approach to extending the life of good quality roads, but more importantly because it works.

Onusseit, who's been taking care of Wilmington's 115 lane miles for the past 10 years, says preservation is key to maintaining the roads under his jurisdiction with the approximate $500,000 annual budget he has to do so. While there is occasional full rehabilitation work required on some roads that have completely deteriorated, Onusseit is trying to follow a 20-year program that targets every lane mile of the road network for some type of improvement.

"We have some roads with particular deficiencies, whether its drainage, or lack of curbs and sidewalks, but we would need an annual budget of over $1 million to address all of those problems," Onusseit notes. "So we focus our attention on trying to address the major projects we have to address during the year and then use our remaining budget to improve as many lane miles possible with some type of surface treatment that corrects any existing problems, improves the ride and safety of the road, and gives us extended serviceability out of that road."

Onusseit says he tries to budget approximately $100,000 annually for micro-surfacing work to keep good roads in good condition and avoid or delay major rehabilitation work on those roads.

"We've been applying 30,000 to 40,000 square yards of micro-surfacing treatment to our roads for the past eight to nine years and it really is one of the most cost-effective approaches we've been able to take in keeping our roads in good condition," Onusseit says. "We even use micro-surfacing on fairly new roads five years after we've constructed them because it really helps to keep those roads in like-new condition. The longer we can keep a road in good condition, the longer we can protect our initial investment of constructed that road and delay any significant additional investment to repair or rehabilitate it."

Methuen's aggressive program
Methuen's Bonanno is also a strong believer in micro-surfacing and pavement preservation in general. When the municipality received a $10 million bond in 2001 to improve and maintain the 200 lane miles in its road network, Bonanno immediately initiated an aggressive preservation program by applying 200,000 square yards of micro-surfacing in the first year. Since then the highway department addresses 70,000 to 80,000 square yards of micro-surfacing projects annually.

"After we take care of sealing cracks and patching potholes, we'll have two coats of micro-surfacing applied to the road. The first coat takes care of surface issues (rutting, minor cracking) and acts as a leveling course, and the second application will serves as the protective coat that will extend the life of the road," Bonanno says. "If we tried to hot coat (apply a hot-mix overlay) these roads it would cost triple what we're spending to micro-surface them. And the micro-surfacing treatments really do extend the service life of the roads, making them last a lot longer before we have to rehabilitate them.

"We started a formalized pavement management program right after we received our initial funding and we're still playing catch-up with some of the roads we haven't touch yet, but 80 percent of the roads in our network are good candidates for micro-surfacing," he adds.

And with another 70,000 square yards of micro-surfacing projects scheduled for this year, Bonanno is confident the preservation investment of $3 per yard versus the cost of a hot overlay ($8.50 to $9.50) will help him continue to keep the Methuen road network in good order.

"A 10-year-old road is a good candidate for micro-surfacing and we know the investment to preserve that road will add another six to seven years of service life before we have to look at doing something else," Bonanno says. And with 30 years of service as the superintendent of the highway department, Bonanno hopes that the extended service life achieved through preservation work done on the roads will mean that he never has to worry about those roads again.

Sutton's rural solution
Sutton's Brigham says micro-surfacing has been a good approach for maintaining the 100 lane miles of his rural road network west of Worcester.

"We try to address 10 to 20 lane miles annually with some type of surfacing treatment," Brigham says.

While chipseal applications are often used on the low-volume country township roads Brigham has to maintain, micro-surfacing is often the best solution to correct minor rutting and road surfaces starting to show some wear.

"We just completed our third year of micro-surfacing and it's definitely one of the main approaches we utilize to maintain the roads that are the township's responsibility," Brigham says. "We have our own road maintenance crew for patching and repair, and we will address severe rutting ourselves, but we try to target approximately one third of our maintenance budget for micro-surfacing projects."

With an anticipated 2008 maintenance budget of just over $300,000 that means Brigham is able to apply approximately 30,000 to 40,000 square yards of micro-surfacing treatment annually.

"It's not a cure-all, because some roads do need to be rehabilitated with a hot-mix overlay. But, with material costs (particularly that of liquid asphalt binder) continuing to rise, preservation is the best way to stretch the dollars I have to work with in maintaining the township's roads," Brigham says. "And we've really been happy with the results and the fact that it does leave us with some money to address road projects that require more work."

Sealcoating's approach
As a pavement preservation resource, Sealcoating Inc. has played an integral role in helping the three municipal road agencies implement a cost-effective pavement management approach with its micro-surfacing expertise.

According to Patrick Ellis, vice president of sales for Sealcoating, all the agency people his company works with have taken an active role in learning about the different preservation approaches available in maintaining a quality infrastructure.

Roads that are in good to fair condition (with a rating of 60 to 70 percent) are ideal candidates for micro-surfacing. Those roads are typically 10 to 12 years old and a micro-surfacing treatment can extend the service life an additional six to seven years before the road may require extensive rehabilitation work.

Since most communities don't have designated preservation budgets, micro-surfacing and other preservation work is generally funded through an agency's general maintenance budget. Sealcoating sees it as their responsibility to help agencies determined which roads should be treated with the appropriate preservation solution that will help their customers maximize their investment.

As Richard Goodick, Sealcoating's vice president of operations, points out, the company positions itself as a turnkey resource with a knowledgeable sales force trained to help road agency customers determine the right maintenance strategy for the road conditions and traffic volume the surface must address.

Sealcoating's 14-person micro-surfacing crew applies approximately 800,000 square yards of the Type II (100 percent of the aggregate content passing through a 3/8-inch sieve) polymer-modified surface treatment annually using a Bergkamp micro-surfacing paver.

The micro-surfacing service Sealcoating provides is a growing part of the company's business, which also includes crack sealing, hot in-place recycling, and bridge and concrete repair, and it's likely to continue growing as more road agencies see the benefit of the preservation approach.

As limited road maintenance budgets continue to put pressure on road agencies to initiate creative solutions for maintaining their road networks, Sealcoating is helping Wilmington, Methuen, Sutton and other municipalities meet that challenge by leveraging the cost and performance benefits achieved through pavement preservation.