GREENFIELD — After two bottles of tar remover and hours of elbow grease, Maxwell-area resident Larry Shaw was not exactly happy with the black, sticky substance that clung to his vehicle.
But he was pleased a week later. The limestone chips that went on top of his gravel road made for smoother, less-dusty driving on CR 550N just east of Ind. 9.
Shaw’s road was among the eight miles of gravel surfaces that got a makeover this summer with a paving technique called “double chip and seal.” While residents might not like the process, many are satisfied with the result.
Road crews annually use chip and seal as a cost-effective method to temporarily smooth over paved streets and roads. It’s less expensive than repaving roads with asphalt.
Since the Hancock County Highway Department turned 20 miles of paved roads to gravel in 2009, gravel roads were at the forefront of rural roadwork this summer.
County highway engineer Joe Copeland decided to ease the dust problem with chip and seal, and he got the financial go-ahead from other county officials.
The county highway department put used double chip and seal on 8.5 miles of the county’s gravel roads. This was in addition to using a single chip-and-seal topping on 3.5 miles of asphalt roads. In all, nearly $400,000 was spent on the work.
Chipping was completed this week; starting Monday, the department will spray calcium chloride on the rest of the county’s gravel roads to also reduce dust.
The techniques are not as permanent or smooth as freshly paving a road with asphalt, but it’s a lot cheaper. At a time when expenses are rising and revenues are dwindling for such work, officials say, it’s a good alternative for maintaining the roads.
But it doesn’t come without some problems.
Gray, who has lived on CR 550N for 33 years, said he was upset with the liquid primer that was put down on his road late last month. Using a product to scrub the finish of his truck, he worked for four hours to remove residue his tires had kicked up.
There are still black marks from the primer in his driveway and garage. But Gray, 69, changed his tune when the road crew came back a few days later to put two layers of limestone rocks down.
“In the end… I’ve told them they did a good job, which it is,” Gray said. “It’s just the process they were doing it (that I didn’t like).”
Copeland said the black, sticky primer is what people complain about the most. The substance must be laid for at least one day before limestone chips can be added.
The first layer of stone is accompanied by a second layer, with an asphalt binder between the two.
The primer shouldn’t be sticky after 24 hours, Copeland added, and the substance is a necessary evil of the chip-and-seal process for gravel roads. The primer does not have to be used on asphalt roads, but it must be placed on gravel to help keep the first layer of stone in place.
The primer also helps the chip and seal last longer, Hancock County Commissioner Tom Stevens added.
Officials are hoping the gravel roads that were chipped this summer will last six years before more work is necessary.
What that additional work might be in the future is up in the air. Local officials, for years, have been concerned about dwindling coffers for the county highway department with the cost of materials on the rise.
“I’ve been trying to work with the council as long as I’ve been commissioner, and I believe they’re finally coming around to a shared interest of trying to put more money into the road maintenance program,” Stevens said. “Commissioners have set that as a high priority, and the council is starting to buy into it.”
Even if the county council earmarks more money for road maintenance, it doesn’t mean gravel roads will be paved. The department could use the money to maintain paved roads instead.
In 2009, about 20 miles of dilapidated paved roads in the county were turned into gravel because of a lack of funds to maintain them.
“There were some (residents) upset, but here’s the thing – what we had out there at the time was junk,” Copeland said. “It might as well have been a gravel road, as bad as it was.”
Today, there are 30 miles of gravel roads in Hancock County.
Hancock County Councilman Tom Roney’s road was turned into gravel last year. The change along CR 300W south of CR 600N affected eight households.
“It’s what you’ve got to go through to get there,” Roney said of the sticky primer. “It’s much improved from what it was, and even when it was paved before, it was in terrible shape.”
Kelli Brown, who lives on CR 675E just off of U.S. 40, said she still has residue on the wheels of her van after her road was chip-and-sealed last year.
Brown, a teacher and mother of four, said she couldn’t help but drive on the sticky substance last year when running errands with her family. Still, she said she’s happy with the chips they put over the primer.
“The chip and seal is so much better than the gravel,” Brown said.
The chip and seal was done on her road only where the houses are, leaving a dusty stretch just before U.S. 40. The next thing Brown would like to see is something to cut back on the dust there.
That will come next week with the calcium chloride spraying, Copeland said. The substance, which is also used in the winter for snow removal, will temporarily help eliminate dust, he said.
Aside from the painful day or so where residents must endure the sticky primer, the chip and seal on gravel roads is a good solution at a time when highway funds are low, Hancock County Commissioner Brad Armstrong said.
“If it’s going from gravel to chip and seal, generally, (residents) are pretty happy with that,” Armstrong said. “It keeps the dust down, which is a major issue with gravel roads.”