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Viewpoint: Maintenance on Washington underway

Employee Portrait of Les Nohre, Grand Forks District Engineer

By Les Noehre

New asphalt pavement for Washington Street is underway. After a prolonged wait from early spring and continuing to the present, the potholes are being addressed with a long-term fix. The roadway surface will be removed and a new layer of asphalt pavement installed. The project will also do something that we haven't done before, which is to provide the surface treatment, or chip seal, along with this summer's project.

A few days after the asphalt pavement is complete a contractor will come and lay down a chip seal. I've often heard this process called "tar and pea gravel." Chip seals are a surface treatment that prolongs the life of asphalt pavement by providing a wear course, and improves the traction of the pavement. Generally chip seals are applied three years after a paving project, but in this case we are applying it within a few days. There are advantages and disadvantages to waiting or doing it at the same time as the pavement, yet in this case we've chosen to do it right away. That means in three years there won't be another two-week delay along the corridor. More good news.

Many people I've talked to have the idea that the anti-icing (spraying streets ahead of a winter storm) the city does is a direct cause of the potholes on Washington Street and elsewhere in the city. I don't agree and have seen no evidence to prove that theory. The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) also does anti-icing, and there are many benefits to doing it.

Anti-icing is a proactive approach to winter road maintenance by adding an anti-icing liquid to the pavement prior to a storm. It forms a bond breaker between the pavement surface and the snow and ice layer, which reduces the chance that ice will form and bond to the surface. It is similar to how a cooking spray prevents food from sticking to the frying pan. Anti-icing reduces the amount of time required to restore the roads to a clear, dry state. It also reduces the use of sand on the road, which results in reduced environmental impact, and there are reduced costs because removing compacted snow and ice takes more time, equipment and material than preventing it with anti-icing. Plus the improved roadway conditions result in safer driving conditions. And finally, the additives used most often reduce the corrosiveness of road salt. So as you can see, there are many positive benefits to anti-icing.

Another item I'd like to cover is simply my personal observation and opinion. And that is that our Grand Forks city crews of all types, and especially the road crews, do an exceptional job. They are dedicated, hard-working people, and we all should be proud of them. I am.

Both operations, laying the asphalt and chip seal, will require patience on the part of drivers. There are orange cones, barrels and barricades all along Washington Street, so please slow down. Watch for construction workers, pedestrians and other vehicles. Remember to buckle up every trip, every time and allow more time for your commute. NDDOT is committed to the safety of motorists and our mission through the Vision Zero initiative, which is to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries caused by motor vehicle crashes.

Please feel free to contact me with your concerns or questions regarding our state highways. I can be reached by phone at (701) 787-6500, email at, or mail at 1951 N. Washington, Grand Forks, ND 58203.

Les Noehre, a professional engineer for the Grand Forks District of the state Department of Transportation, is responsible for the state highway system in northeast North Dakota.