As much as $700,000 needed to repair Tahoe roads after resurfacing failure | SierraSun.com
Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

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As much as $700,000 needed to repair Tahoe roads after resurfacing failure

TAHOMA, Calif. — County officials estimate it will cost more than a half-million dollars to repair several miles of West Shore roadways that were resurfaced this past summer with paving material that has since become loose and is being tracked onto private properties.

Late last August and into September, crews performed a chip seal project on roughly 21 miles of roads in El Dorado County, within the communities of Tahoma and Rubicon, said Matt Moody, highway superintendent for the county.

Some of the roads chip sealed within Tahoma include First through 10th Avenue, Elm and Oak streets, and Alder Avenue, he said. In Upper and Lower Rubicon, roads include Bayview, Cedar-Ridge and Rubicon drives.

Initially, it appeared the project was a success, Moody said, but when snow removal operations began this winter, swaths of chips started detaching from roads and going elsewhere, exposing the sticky oil below.

As a result, vehicles that drive over exposed oil patches track the adhesive into driveways, and pets who step in them bring oil and chips into people's residences.

"It's just a mess," said Tahoma resident Lorene Hoffman, who has three dogs that track the material into the house. "It's all over my place. … It's real hard to clean up, and it's just impossible to keep out of the house.

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"It's very frustrating."

HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS?

In an effort to keep the road material off her dogs' paws — it gets stuck between their pads, with fur trimming as the only effective way to remove it — Hoffman said she has been driving her dogs elsewhere to go on walks.

One of her main concerns is health risks, as her dogs are constantly licking their paws in an attempt to get the material off, she said.

When asked about the potential safety issues to animals and people, Don Spear, deputy director for El Dorado County's Community Development Agency Transportation Division, Maintenance and Operations, said to his understanding, the oil — the product that the public has raised the most concern about — and chips don't pose a risk.

Meanwhile, fellow Tahoma resident Denise Lohner said she is concerned by the potential environmental impacts the surface materials may have, especially during spring runoff season.

To this, Moody said the county has been sweeping up the loose chips, and should any be missed, they will be collected in drop-inlets, where sediment in runoff is captured before making it into Lake Tahoe.

"(The chips) making it to the lake, I don't see that happening," he said.

As for the oil, known exposed patches are being temporarily covered with sand, with a more permanent covering solution planned, Moody said, so there is no concern that it will make it into the lake.

"We've done (chip sealing) quite a few times over the years, and we've had a few spot location issues before, but never to this extent," Moody said.

AN EXTRA $600,000 TO $700,000 IN COST

Officials believe the cause of the issue is due to a defect with the oil, preventing the chips from properly sticking.

"There apparently is a problem with the emulsion used as a binder for the aggregate," Spear stated in a recent letter addressed to Tahoma area residents. "We are in discussions with our material vendor to resolve the situation as soon as weather permits."

In either late spring or early summer, the county plans to perform a slurry seal project on the roads to prevent any further chip loss and oil being tracked onto private property.

It's estimated the project will cost between $600,000 to $700,000, with funding coming out of the county's roads fund, Spear said.

Money for that fund comes from gasoline taxes, not property taxes.

As for why the county is opting to do a slurry seal project this time around, Moody said: "Without knowing what happened the first time (with the chip seal), we don't want to step back into it."

The slurry seal project is anticipated to occur either in May or June and should take roughly a month to complete, weather dependent, he said. A few roadways will be done at a time in order to limit travel impacts.

In the meantime, the county will continue to sweep up the loose chips and sand all areas with problems as it has been since the issue came to the county's attention this winter.

When asked why this issue was discovered months after the chip seal project was completed, Moody said: "That's the million dollar question at this point," as initially there were no problems with loose chips.

What is chip sealing?

A chip seal project involves applying oil (emulsion) on an existing road surface, followed by chips (aggregate) that are then compacted together by rollers that simultaneously smooth out the surface, according to El Dorado County.

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Stay informed

Should the public see loose chips or exposed oil, they are advised to call 530-573-3180 in order to be addressed by the county.

Otherwise, questions and concerns can be directed to Dan Spear by calling 530-642-4909 or emailing him at don.spear@edcgov.us.