Record winter caused catestrophic road failures in northwestern Nevada
April 3, 2017
Winter unleashed her icy fury in unprecedented fashion these past few months, and as operators of regional ski resorts celebrate, area commuters lament the destruction winter has wreaked on regional roadways.
Nowhere was the impact of historic rain and snowfall felt more than on the highways surrounding Pyramid Lake. State Route 446 in January sustained more damage than any other roadway in northern Nevada. More than 10 sections of roadway were washed out — including some areas where floodwaters carved 50-foot ravines through the roadway, the Nevada Department of Transportation reports.
Other key state roads took it nearly as hard. In December, a sinkhole closed Kingsbury Grade (State Route 207). Q&D Construction repaired the roadway in just over a week, but not before excavating a 150-foot long by 50-foot deep section of the roadway to remove and replace an eroded drainpipe.
Roads great and small across the Truckee Meadows suffered as well. Marnell Heinz, maintenance and operations manager for the City of Reno Public Works Department, said maintenance crews have worked 10-hour shifts for months trying to repair the hundreds of potholes that opened up in roads all over town. At one point, Heinz says, the city had two crews dedicated exclusively to pothole repair in an effort to keep up with the unprecedented volume of driver-reported road issues.
Most of the potholes are because of failure of the slurry seal covering the pavement bed, Heinz said. Road maintenance follows the Pavement Condition Index, a number between 0 and 100 used to indicate the condition of pavement. Generally, Heinz says, maintenance strives to keep pavement between a 65 and an 80 rating on the PCI index.
The life of pavement that falls within that range can be extended by treating it with slurry seal or chip sealing methods, Heinz says. Pavement that falls below a 60 should be milled and overlaid or reconstructed completely.
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"There's not enough structural integrity," he said.
The pothole problems throughout the Truckee Meadows mostly stem from slurry seal placed over pavement that likely should have been replaced, he says. Asphalt treatments placed on good pavement definitely can extend its life, Heinz adds, but treating pavement below a 60 on the PCI isn't justified in the long run.
"For the last eight to 10 years we did not have any winter-type precipitation, and now we are seeing the delamination of slurry seals and the failure of the asphalt below," Heinz said. "That is where you get the scabbing and the potholes."
From residential streets to arterial roadways such as McCarran Boulevard to key highways, drivers have reported potholes in every part of greater Reno-Sparks.
So how much is it costing to fix them compared to normal years? The City of Reno typically spends less than $100,000 for pothole maintenance for the entire winter, Heinz says. Total fiscal year spending on such maintenance might be around $200,000.
This winter, the City of Reno already has spent between $250,000 and $300,000 — and the wet weather and freezing temps might not even be over.
The city gets its funding through the Regional Transportation Commission, but Heinz says maintenance spending for the severity of the failures in the regional roadway system far exceed any type of monies the Public Works Department gets.
And it's a drop in the bucket compared to the damages sustained on State Route 446. Meg Ragonese, public information officer with NDOT, said repairs to that road tallied $4 million.
NDOT oversees pothole repairs on all regional highways and major thoroughfares such as McCarran Boulevard. The RTC handles all arterials and connectors, while residential streets are the bailiwick of city repair crews.
NDOT typically applies "betterment" treatments during inclement winter months and implements more permanent fixes as the weather improves, Ragonese said. Q&D Construction handled much of the pothole repair work on Interstate 80 between Keystone Avenue and the California state line. To date, more than 50,000 square feet of new interstate surface has been laid on I-80 to repair potholes, Ragonese said.
From identifying a pothole to repairing it generally takes about 48 hours, Reno's Heinz said. Citizens typically file an online service request or place a call to Reno Direct, and from there the service request is inspected and a work order is issued.
The City of Reno has staff dedicated solely to maintenance and repair issues, unless they are pulled off those duties for snow removal or flood assistance. Heinz says the team is efficient, and a day's work is mapped out before crews hit the road to minimize travel time and maximize repair efforts.
"We try to plot out locations where we have failures and methodically go about it," he says. "We are not scurrying from one side of town to the next.
"This isn't the City of Reno not being proactive and trying to repair roadways; we are just seeing catastrophic failure throughout the main arteries and travel lanes," he said. "When you get record-setting precipitation, and a constant freeze-thaw cycle, it degregates the asphalt more quickly. Water keeps getting in the cracks and crevices under the slurry seal, and it just keeps working it away."