When the state DOT took federal stimulus money and repaved a stretch of the Glenn Highway in Anchorage this summer, it wasn't your run-of-the-mill job. The new pavement included a secret ingredient meant to make the pavement last longer and prevent those familiar ruts that seem to break out so quickly in Anchorage's roads.
That ingredient? Recycled tires.
The tires are chopped up and blended with paving material to create something known as "crumb rubber asphalt."
This kind of recycled paving mix was first used here in the 1980s, on Anchorage's A/C couplet, according to Frank Richards, deputy commissioner of DOT, and "it has lasted in excess of 20 years."
That seems like an eternity, compared with how fast other local roads here have deteriorated. Heavy traffic and seven months a year of studded tire traffic take a heavy toll.
Unfortunately, Richards says some projects done back then with rubber-asphalt mix didn't turn out so well, so the department had been hesitant to use it. Cost was another limiting factor, says Newton Bingham, DOT's expert on the material. It's about 10 percent more expensive than conventional asphalt.
Recently, the state identified ways to improve how the material could be blended and applied to roads in Alaska, and decided to try again. Besides the Glenn Highway, the state used the new mix to pave Elmore Road.
Both projects were done by local contractors. Though the shredded tires have to be imported from Outside, they're a small component of the mix - about 2 percent.
This new material could be a money-saving two-fer. Besides offering hope for more durable roads, it might someday help keep fewer tires from going to the Anchorage landfill.
For rut-weary drivers and frustrated taxpayers, the state's repaving experiment is encouraging news. With business as usual, state and city governments simply can't afford to keep all our roads smooth and level. DOT estimates that fixing all its rutted roads statewide will cost about $300 million, according to Richards.
It's gotten so bad, whenever Southcentral Alaskans see a road repaving project, they may well think: That's great. Those ruts were terrible, but they seem to come back awfully fast. Isn't there a way to make our pavement last longer?
Well, the state is going to find out.
Surely Alaska drivers and taxpayers join us in hoping the answer is yes.
BOTTOM LINE: If you're annoyed by ruts in Alaska roads, here's some good news.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing