Old Town residents not happy with chip seal

By Sara Bruestle | Aug 14, 2013
Photo by: Sara Bruestle Resident Jim Pompeo shows his disapproval of the chip seal job done in front of his house on Clover Court.

Several residents of Old Town are unhappy with their recently chip-sealed streets, which some say are “shoddy” or “sloppy.”

The city has chip sealed more than 20 miles of streets in the last seven years through its Pavement Preservation program. Chip seal is estimated to last 7-10 years.

Adopted by City Council in 2007, the program calls for the chip sealing of several miles of road each year. The streets are repaved on a rotating schedule in July and August.

Chip sealing involves laying a layer of oil, covering it with about 3/8 inch of clean rock chips and seating them with a roller, then adding a seal coat of oil. Another black seal is added later to smooth out the road.

“It’s a maintenance technique, like painting your house,” Public Works Director Rob McGaughey said. “You paint your house to prevent water damage to your siding. At some point, you have to paint the road like you paint your house.”

Streets that have been chip sealed last twice as long as a street that isn’t, McGaughey said.

Without maintenance, streets need to be replaced sooner with new asphalt, which is more than eight times as expensive as a layer of chip seal, McGaughey said.

He said the typical residential street costs $26 per square yard, whereas chip seal is around $3.50 a square yard.

“If money was no object, we’d put the hot mix asphalt down,” McGaughey said. “But when money is the object, you do what you need to do so roads don’t turn into gravel or have potholes.”

He said that chip seals are also more environmentally sound than paving. Three applications of chip seal over 30 years uses less than half the rock and oil of a conventional asphalt overlay.

This summer, many roads in Old Town, as well as on Washington Avenue and Goat Trail Road, were chip sealed. The city hired Doolittle Construction LLC to do the work for $223,000. All new asphalt would have cost the city $1.6 million.

Many of the residents on these streets have complained, saying they are unsatisfied with the finished result – that it should be called “cheap seal, not chip seal.”

They say there are ruts and ripples in the roads, which would have been fixed had it been repaved using the grind and overlay method. They say it also spits rocks and is noisy when driven over.

“Residents are angry about the city wasting taxpayer dollars on this fiasco,” resident Jim Pompeo said. “Drive up to Washington and Clover Lane to see how Mukilteo is being transformed into the ghetto of the Pacific Northwest.”

City officials agree that it is an imperfect and somewhat messy process.

“It takes a couple of weeks for the thing to settle down and for traffic to mush it all down,” McGaughey said. “After that, people just forget about it.”

Mukilteo is in the first cycle of the 10-year pavement program. By 2017, all city streets identified for chip seal will have been preserved, and the process will start all over again.

If it’s done right, streets that are chip sealed may never need to be overlaid, McGaughey said.

Old Town residents say, however, that they'd much rather see asphalt on their roads than chip seal because its a better-quality product. They say Mukilteo is worth more than the cheapest way to repave a road.

Resident Linda Wooding said she wonders if the reason why the city chip seals its streets is because most of the REET (Real Estate Excise Tax) funds are going toward paying for the Rosehill Community Center.

"Our main services are more important," Wooding said. "Now we're stuck paying for a community center, and I don't know who uses it."

She added that kids learning how to ride their bikes on chip-sealed roads will fall and hurt themselves on the rocky surface.  "It's not user-friendly," she said.

Resident June Quick said the oil from the chip seal sticks to the treads in her car tires and to the fur of her yellow lab. She said she's had to cut the clumps of oil out of her dog's fur.

"The mayor promised me this tar wasn't going to get in your cars or on your driveways because it seals," she said. "But it doesn't quite. I think the verdict is still out on whether it is effective or not."

Quick said residents should have a say over whether their streets are chip sealed or overlaid – including the residents who moved to Mukilteo after the Pavement Preservation program was adopted and don't know about it.

Mukilteo isn’t the only city in Washington that maintains its roads with chip seal. Other cities with chip seal include Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Auburn and Puyallup.

“Other cities do this crack seal until you can’t wait any longer,” Mayor Joe Marine said. “Then they scrap up the money to do asphalt. It’s very expensive. Chip seal is a better use of tax dollars.”

Savings or no, Marine said residents complain about the chip seal every year.

“We deal with this every time we do it,” he said. “‘How could you do this to my neighborhood?’ This is our seventh year, and this is exactly what happens. You get this big up-swell by a few neighbors who think this is the worst thing possible.”

After a year, however, most can’t even tell that the roads were chip sealed, Marine said.

As an example, he suggests that residents drive Harbour Heights Parkway, which was chip sealed in 2007, the first year of the program.

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