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Friday, October 25, 2013
AF Road Bond: Crack Seal, the Magic Miracle Cure!

Crack seal isn't snake oil; it has a much different consistency and a legitimate application. But in some minds it seems to have similar properties.

This is the fourth in a series of eleven short posts on the proposed $20 million road bond in American Fork. The first is here.

A later post will describe the City's new system for maintaining healthy streets, prolonging their lives to about 60 years and cutting their total cost roughly in half. Crack seal fits into that plan, according to Street Supervisor T. J. Warnick, who was kind enough to answer my many questions last week.

Crack seal is one of the cheapest things you can do in street repair. You put it in the cracks between the asphalt and the concrete curb, or between the asphalt and the concrete around a manhole (personhole?) or other fixture, or (within limits) in cracks in the asphalt itself. It stays pliable, so when things around it expand and contract, it still fills the crack. This is good, because it keeps moisture from getting into the road structure. Otherwise, if the water gets in and freezes, thaws, freezes, thaws, freezes, thaws . . . it eventually makes lots of baby potholes that grow up quickly but never move out of American Fork.

Today, however, we're not talking about ordinary crack seal in its proper role. We're talking about Crack Seal: The Wonder Drug! and Crack Seal: The Magic Miracle Cure for Crumbling Streets!

I've been reading an opposition web site. I first read the whole site before attending an informational meeting last week. Here are two of the opposition's questions. They have multiple illustrative flaws.

Why is the City not applying crack seal to our good streets first to maximize the useful life of our currently unmaintainable streets?

First, the City is using crack seal and has been for quite a while. T. J. Warnick can tell you how many barrels of it they've used lately. Second, using it on good streets does not affect the unmaintainable streets, because they're different streets; there's a contradiction built into the question. Third, using crack seal on the wrong sorts of road damage or on "currently unmaintainable streets" -- now roughly 80 percent of our streets -- is pointless. If the streets are unmaintainable, they're far beyond the actual power of crack seal, which is more preventative than restorative. Using it there would be like to trying to fill a mouthful of existing cavities by increasing the fluoride in your toothpaste. Moreover, if you use crack seal too much, it's hazardous even to cars and pedestrians, but especially to anything with two wheels.

Why is crack seal not part of the bond proposal or adequately provided for in the City budget?

The bond proposal is for reconstruction, not routine maintenance, so in its maintenance and repair role, crack seal is not relevant to the bond. However, crack seal -- or joint seal, if you want to call it that in this case -- will be used routinely in rebuilding streets, to seal joints between new asphalt and other fixtures, such as concrete curbs. In that sense it is part of the bond proposal. As for the City budget, crack seal must already be in it, because we're already using it wherever using it makes sense.

In summary, crack seal is not a miracle cure or a neglected, cheaper alternative to the major work the City proposes to fund by bonding.

Some opposition questions are better than these, are not inherently contradictory, and don't assume things that aren't so. Please be one of those people who both question the questions and explore the facts. Whatever you do, please don't brush your teeth with crack seal.

Next in this series: Can Bonding be "Fiscally Conservative"?

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