LUZERNE COUNTY — When you make repairs to your home, you expect them to last, especially if you invest a lot of money.
The same thing goes for roads. That’s the reason PennDOT is now investigating why pavement less than two years old on Interstate 81 is already breaking apart.
Newswatch 16 drove on a stretch of Interstate 81 near the Pittston exit that was paved over less than two years ago. Anywhere you see blacktop – approximately 20 miles in Luzerne County – was resurfaced starting in 2012 and completed in 2013.
PennDOT calls it microseal, a thin layer that’s used to preserve the pavement underneath. It is supposed to last three to four years.
But what you see right now all over I-81 from Luzerne to Susquehanna counties are divots here and there. Some are the size of your fist. Others are much bigger.
“It’s just going to be a big pothole (if we don’t take care of this),” said PennDOT construction engineer Harold Hill. “The whole interstate.”
But in order to fix the problem, PennDOT engineers first have to find out why the new layer of pavement has failed.
The state gave us an exclusive look at some core samples PennDOT just removed from the pavement in question.
The bottom part of the core goes back to when the interstate was first built.
The top of the core is the microseal with an important purpose.
“Basically, the idea of this microseal is to keep the water from soaking down into the pavement. We always say potholes are created when water gets down into the pavement. It freezes then expands and causes potholes and more water gets in it and it becomes exponential. So the idea of this microseal on top of here is to keep the water from getting down into the pavement,” explained PennDOT spokesman James May.
But the microseal – the newly paved top portion – is deteriorating.
PennDOT is now testing the material in these core samples to see if the top portion is to blame or the foundation of the interstate itself is collapsing.
One thing is for sure: PennDOT wants answers, especially when the paving in Luzerne County alone cost taxpayers over $10 million.
“Until we do testing and they do more testing at the lab, we can’t definitely say what the issue is,” said May.
PennDOT insists it does quality control inspections all the time when paving work is done
Some theories for the deterioration include the extreme weather we had this past winter, and perhaps less than ideal conditions when a lot of that paving work was done at night.
Whatever it is, PennDOT will have to do more testing before there are answers to the microseal mystery.