Jeff Humphrey

Enduring Heat While Improving Spokane Streets

Jeff Humphrey, Media Manager, 509.625.6308

Thursday, July 30, 2020 at 11:48 a.m.

Until your job involves chasing a rolling oven down the street, it’s hard to appreciate what it’s like to work with asphalt.

“You’re at a little over 300 degree asphalt. Stand next to it, you can feel the heat radiating from the asphalt. Plus, the heat from the sun. Makes it a little bit hotter,” said Clint Pfenning, an employee with the Spokane Streets Department.

Unfortunately, for Pfenning and his co-workers, when you’ve set your sights on repaving almost 15 lane - miles of city streets, your schedule doesn’t allow time outs for extreme temperatures.

“The crews are doing a grind and overlay project here on Wellesley. Grind down two inches to create a flat profile in the road, and then we pave it back with two inches of mix,” detailed Clint Harris, Director of the Spokane Streets Department.

A string of waiting dump trucks feed the mix into the paver, which reheats the asphalt before laying down a lane of pothole - free pavement.

Harris thinks grind and overlay projects help the tax dollars we’ve set aside for miles of street repairs, to go farther.

“Much cheaper. The cost of rebuilding a road is above $80 a square yard. We’re able to do grind and overlays for around $30 per square yard,” Harris emphasized.

This year, COVID 19 - related reductions in traffic have sped up repairs in congested areas like Monroe Street and Northwest Boulevard.

“Having reduced traffic flows, we were able to get into those places where, normally we would not want to go to, do the work and do it safely,” explained Harris.

However, the work is not without its difficulties.

The roller used to compact the piping hot asphalt sprinkles three thousand gallons of water a day, turning the freshly laid pavement into a short-lived sauna.

“Adds a lot of humidity to the atmosphere. Yeah, its makes it a lot more humid to work in, a lot harder to breathe,” Pfenning said, as the raked the steaming asphalt.

Street crews also have to make sure they don’t pave over access covers and storm drains.

Streets employees spreading the asphalt are so focused on their work, several of them have already been clipped by a passing car or truck.

“What we’re looking for is, if you would just slow down a little bit for us. Watch out for us, we’ll watch out for you. We’ll get your streets done. It’ll be nice, and everybody can enjoy a nice road,” predicted Pfennig.

Watch for even more road projects later this summer and fall as the City looks to stimulate the local economy by hiring private contractors to perform additional street improvements.

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