The inexpensive and quick way the City protects the roads

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Around this time of year, as temperatures warm and roadwork season begins, the City is often asked, “Why are you covering our streets in that ugly tar? Isn’t there a better option?” 

That roadwork is known as crack seal, an operation whereby tar is melted, poured into roadway cracks and squeegeed smooth. The intent of crack seal is not to fill a crack top to bottom, but to seal the crack, with the purpose of keeping water out of the subgrade of the road.

Water is enemy number one for degradation of asphalt and concrete, so crack seal provides a relatively quick and inexpensive method to keep water from infiltrating the roadways.

Before the crack seal operations start, cracks are blown free of debris to prep the roadway for the material. Then, once operations are complete, a street sweeper will be scheduled to come back and assist with any leftover debris.

Crack seal is used for two types of roads; the first is for a roadway we expect to pave in the relatively near future. Crack seal on these roadways can help the roadway maintain its current quality level by keeping water off the subgrade.

The second use is for streets not currently on an immediate paving plan. Crack seal can serve as preventative maintenance to help keep the street at its current level in this case also. Even if a street is in less-than-ideal shape, the crack seal can help prevent rot and the need for a full reconstruction of the roadway at a future date.

Reconstruction is extremely expensive compared to regular paving operations, so with a bit of help from crack seal, budgets can be spent on more repaves on more streets, rather than full reconstructions, where crews must dig feet down and rebuild the entire foundation rather than a few inches for paving.

The City is also asked, “Isn’t this just a band aid?” And the answer is yes, but a necessary band-aid. We fully understand that this maintenance method is a temporary ‘dab of glue,’ and we do not pretend that the work replaces the need for paving. Crack seal is not always pretty, but the future benefits and cost savings greatly outweigh any aesthetic disappointment. 

Once a crack seal job is completed by one of the City’s contractors, our inspectors will visit the site to ensure it meets City standards. If not, the contractor will be corrected, and potentially placed on notice or fined.

We thank the residents of Colorado Springs for their patience, and sometimes willingness to park a bit further away for a few days, as we crack seal some of our over 6,200 lane miles of roadways!

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