Essay: On the Apology
(2016) Plumstead Township has me hopelessly surrounded.
For the past year I have touted the upper region of Bucks County as a great place to ride. Now that prime-riding season is in full swing I feel it is my duty to apologize to anyone taking my advice and attempting to ride amidst the current status of our roads.
Today I wanted to go for a ride. Though relatively successful, the route was in constant change. In what I would estimate as the fifteenth road to be chipped and oiled, I had to alter the route in the only possible direction; any of the other connecting roads had also been recently chipped and oiled. Looking back I was happy to get in almost twenty miles. Unhappily, I rolled over several recently chipped roads that encircle where I live.
Applebutter Road (west), Scott Road (north), Farm School Road, Gordon Road, and Log Cabin all have one thing in common: Last year they were smooth blacktop. And now this summer they were chipped and oiled. Scott Road (south), Hill Road, Durham Road, and Worthington Road were all roads chipped and oiled in the last two years only to be chipped again last week. This is no small list of cycling roads; these are major back roads used by cyclists to get into farm country.
It is said that the chipping process is the cheapest maintenance approach to secondary and tertiary roads. Some internet research revealed that chipping and oiling roads costs approximately $35,000 per mile. To blacktop the same stretch of road would cost in the neighborhood of $250,000. At a quick glance that sounds like a bargain. But is it a bargain when some of these roads have been chipped and oiled three times in the past five years? More internet research reveals that asphalt roads can last up to thirty years. A little quick maths reveals that, at this current rate, the municipality will spend over $600,000 on the same mile that is initially too expensive to deploy blacktop. To break even with these figures, a municipality would have to chip and oil fewer than seven times to put the budget in the black. So in Plumstead Township, $600,000 per mile is a more frugal price than $250,000 per mile?
Furthermore, the roads I initially mentioned, Applebutter, Scott, Farm School, Gordon, and Log Cabin were all converted to blacktop in the last three years. Significant (see: entrance to a new development) portions of Applebutter were dug up and leveled, coverted to stone, and paved to blacktop until its recent chip and oil attention. Regardless of whether the municipality applied the final sealing the road has already become more expensive than the $250,000/ mile figure in the one year of operation.
If anyone is wondering whether there were plans to seal off the blacktopped roads, consider the northern end of Applebutter. It is a lined blacktop road that was also dug up, resurfaced, but it was finished with lines. No chips or oil have touched the road (however Appletree Lane, a connecting road, has been chipped and oiled in the past week). Meanwhile the middle section of Applebutter continues to be full of popping oil bubbles rising in the sun for another summer of neglect.
I also don't believe the comment that chip and oil roads will 'self-level' when heated by direct sunlight in the summer. No chipped and oiled road has even smoothed out a pock-marked road regardless of heat. Although the roads do become more trenchlike in tire paths while the middle of the lane becomes further raised.
So I apologize to anyone who has taken my suggestion and recently attempted to ride the quaint farming roads of Bucks County. Perhaps the wrong people are at the helm of the road maintenance department of the township. Perhaps they refer to the same manifest of roads in some Roll-a-dex and never think to improve other roads. In advance, I will apologize to anyone riding twenty minutes from now all the way up to the next several summers. It is apparent that the township rubs it palms together at the sight of the first warm day to needlessly start (over)“maintaining” these roads.
A good rule of thumb I’ve learned over the past few days is as such: If the road is currently smooth and without bumps, expect it to be chipped and oiled in a matter of minutes. If the road has severe lumps and should be dug up and resurfaced, expect it to be chipped and oiled in a matter of days. And if it’s recently been turned into blacktop, well, you get the idea.
Perhaps the area will get a handle on it soon. Plumstead brags about its maintenance of all 69 miles of road. I'm sure we can all guess which 69 they are in charge of.* Until then, accept my apologies for each mile of ‘frugal’ paving amidst our roads.
* Pennsylvania Department of Transportation oversees the larger roads in the community (often easily identified by the massive cracks and holes in them). This article is merely an opinion on the roads under the township jursidiction and unattached to PennDOT.
Addendum 6/22: Plumsteadville Road Crews were out in force today chipping and oiling Fretz Mill Road, Short Road, and Sladek Road (all roads that did not necessitate resurfacing).