Russian technology may fix Vermont potholes

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(Zind) Like the common cold, the common pothole has defied attempts to find a cure. Now a new technology imported from Russia promises a long lasting fix for one of the banes of winter driving.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) David Scott of the Vermont Agency of Transportation chuckles when he’s asked if he gets many complaints about the stretch of Interstate 89 north of Montpelier. Scott says he has fielded lots of calls about the big patches of pavement that have been peeled away by the effects of weather and heavy traffic, leaving a coffee spilling, tire punishing stretch that from the inside of a car sounds like a bad 1960s drum solo. (Sound of driving on I-89.)

The crumbling road is more than a test of a car’s suspension system -it’s a safety hazard. Scott says there have been numerous broken windshields caused by pieces of pavement kicked up by passing cars. He says there’s little the state can do to fix the road until warmer weather arrives.

(Scott) “We’re faced with the lack of a product or material that we can actually put down in the winter time.”

(Zind) Vermont’s road crews have a limited arsenal to combat the kind of damage that’s occurring on I-89, or the state’s seemingly infinite number of potholes. Typically, winter highway repairs involve using a cold patch -an asphalt band aid that doesn’t last very long.

In the summertime road repairs are made using a heated asphalt mixture. The hot mix can be spread and compressed. It adheres better to the roadway and lasts much longer than a cold patch. But Scott says between November and May it’s impossible to use hot mix for highway repairs.

(Scott) “In the wintertime that would cool too quickly, you’d end up with a giant lump of asphalt in the back of the truck.”

(Zind) Enter Mark Holden. Holden heads a new Waterbury-based paving company called BAS. The firm is owned by a Russian contractor whose crews repair the streets of Moscow year-round.

(Holden) “These are some photographs I took in Moscow two days ago and it just gives you an idea of the technology we’re introducing in the United States.”

(Zind) Holden says his company has the solution to winter paving problems. It’s called Basphalt. It’s been in use in Russia, Finland and Germany for several years. Basphalt can be applied hot, even in the wintertime. It’s done using special trucks mounted with heated tanks. Holden says Basphalt is more durable than even hot mix and promises a long-term fix for damaged roads.

Holden says because of the special equipment needed to transport Basphalt, it’s mainly designed for small paving jobs, not the large scale projects that require fleets of trucks.

(Holden) “It’s not that we’re going to be going out on 89 in two weeks and doing 17 miles of road. That’s not the technology and that’s not what we’re introducing.”

(Zind) David Scott of the transportation agency says the ability to use a hot asphalt mix in the wintertime is a kind of Holy Grail of paving, especially when it comes to bridge repairs, which often take longer than Vermont’s short construction season.

He says the state hopes to test Basphalt in the near future. Holden says if the tests go well, he’d like to be filling potholes with Basphalt next winter.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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