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County chip-seal project is messy but saves money

I wondering if you can shed any light on the process of “chip seal?” Most routes in west Medford are covered with gravel, and I may not be the only one with a broken windshield! I am guessing it is not very favored by cyclists either.

— J.C., via email

We feel your pain, J.C. The chip seal project in west Medford is a dusty, gravelly mess, and the hot, smoky air makes it seem even worse.

But Jackson County assures us they are saving a ton of money by using this technique to improve road surfaces.

“Chip sealing is the process of applying a layer of liquid asphalt to a roadway and then covering it up with (gravel),” according to a chip seal primer posted called “Chipseal Maintenance 101" on the county website at https://bit.ly/2LCj87g.

“While there can be a few days where this process looks pretty ‘rocky,’ the reality is we are performing a tried and true maintenance treatment which is extending the life of the roadway in the least expensive way possible,” the website says.

“Chip seals have been around for a long time — especially on county roads. And at a cost of about $26,000 per mile ... compared to a traditional 2-inch overlay of new asphaltic-concrete mix which can run over $250,000 for that same mile, the process of chip sealing is here to stay,” the site says.

The county chip seals about 70 miles of county roads each summer — and even more this summer — which is about 10 percent of the paved county road network. A chip seal treatment lasts about 10 years, the county says.

“Clearly there are some downsides to chip sealing ... the main one being the loose gravel,” the county says. “Yes, sometimes bicycle riders try to find alternate routes for a while, and all traffic should drive slower for a period of time until the road gets swept off following application.”

This year the county is chip sealing roads from Eagle Point to near Jacksonville and Ashland. “When we get the chip sealing complete on roads, we will then return to all these areas with a different process and apply a ‘fog seal’ over the top,” the county says. “This helps bind the remaining rock to the surface just a bit better to get the maximum benefit. Soon after, we will paint new stripes on the road and it will be good to go.”

For a list of roads being chip sealed this year, the county has a pdf on its website called “Where will we be chip sealing the summer of 2018?” See it at https://bit.ly/2mKrFqk.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.