Interstate 81 Pavement Problem Runs Deep

LUZERNE COUNTY — PennDOT engineers were out Tuesday taking core samples from Interstate 81 in Luzerne County. It’s where holes have opened up in the same highway that was just resurfaced two years ago.

Newswatch 16 was allowed unprecedented access to see the work, and now we know what started out as a microseal mystery has revealed another mystery and one perhaps much more serious.

The machine cuts out a six-inch wide, 14-inch deep core from Interstate 81 near the exit to Mohegan Sun Arena.

This area is among the approximately 20 miles of pavement on the interstate in Luzerne County where divots have mysteriously appeared in the blacktop, in pavement that is less than two years old.

If it’s good quality pavement, the cores should come out of the highway in one piece.

“This one is falling apart before they even get it out which tells us there’s issues, obviously,” said PennDOT official James May. “Just by pulling it out here it’s beginning to crumble in my hands there and I can pull it apart even more just with my thumb. So something’s definitely wrong here.”

But there is another discovery. A section of the core that you see crumbled  is actually the section of Interstate 81 that was rebuilt in 1988.

A second core sample was taken not far away, this time from pavement with no divots.

“It crumbled again. That’s the same exact spot as last time.”

There was a big crack in the segment from 1988.

While PennDOT crews patched the divots in the highway less than 100 feet away, the engineers move on to take sample number three.

Again, the microseal fell apart, and again the section from 1988 crumbled.

“We’re three for three now with them all crumbling in the section that was put in in 1988.”

The contractor from New Jersey that put in the microseal showed up to the site.

But it appears that PennDOT now has another, and perhaps bigger and more costly, mystery on its hands

“For some reason the stuff from the early 60s is holding up. The stuff from now seems to be holding OK but it’s the middle section from 1988. So why is that? And what’s going on that was happening there and that’s what we need to get to the bottom of.”

PennDOT expected to take over a dozen different core samples from different parts of Interstate 81 on Tuesday.

Those samples will then be shipped to a testing facility in Harrisburg to hopefully figure out what has happened to the interstate over the years,  why and what needs to be done to fix the highway the right way.


  • Chris

    Funny how NY state uses around 14 inches of asphalt during a interstate road project and PA pulls a 14 inch core sample from the interstate dating back from the prehistoric age. This state is the pinnacle of idiocy and truly is the armpit of the northeast.

  • Jeff Mayhugh

    Interstate 81 from north of Harrisburg (at the split to I-78) to the New York state line is horrible, and has been horrible for the past 40 years. Even though it’s been redone numerous times (with a lot of it completely redone). What is the problem with quality of road building in NEPA that it is forever falling apart?

  • Rusty Shackleford

    I drove on 81 South about a month ago in Schuylkill county between the Minersville and Tremont exits. If up in Luzerne county looks as bad (or worse) as it did here, avoid 81 if you want your vehicle to last. I assumed the harsh winter caused all this…I think I was wrong.

  • Andrew

    Milo, you’re not that bright are you?

    Big rigs aren’t causing the road to crumble. Also, more than 60 trucks travel I-81 in 5 minutes. The interstates are designed to handle vehicles weighing in EXCESS of 80,000lbs. I don’t know the exact rating, but the roadway is typically a few feet thick. Think about when you get food under your gums and you start to get an infection…. Anything you put on top isn’t going to help the problem that’s underneath until it’s cleaned out. Something in the methods in 1988 is causing this roadway issue and most likely they’ll have to dig it down to the original roadway surface to fix this issue.

    • Ron

      lUzerne County isn’t the only county, Susquehanna County is also on the South bound lane just before exit 223 to Exit 211 and beyond and was redone about the same time, Pa has to learn they have to take alot out to put material in that will hold. Check foundation before you pave..

    • mdog

      So if they shave off the top 4 ” they need to worry bout
      the fault zone 4” below that…Rip it all out and design the road right
      for once and for all. Lay down a foot minimum crushed rock
      to allow drainage.

  • Joshua31

    This is what happen’s when a Nation is in 17.5 Trillion Dollar debt and worship’s, money and pagan idol’s. It rot’s and crumble’s just like it’s useless idol’s. There are signs in the Heavens and in the Earth. As it was in the day’s of Noah so to it is in the days of the Son of Man. Repent, turn away from the way’s of the world, humble yourself before Almighty God(YHWY), Yeshua(Jesus) the Christ, who was and who is the, I AM. LIVES!!! Those that reject the Son, reject Him who sent Him. Repent. Before it is too late for this Nation and this people. God is trying to warn Mankind. Repent.

  • jellystoneranger

    The asphalt industry involved in contracting the highways is like everything else. Many of the so called inspectors are former asphalet contractors that let things slide . I have worked many Pa dot projects that has effected my company and I have seen college summer hires and 80 year old men as inspectors and everything in between. The interstate system should have the highest scrutiny. Only one to blame and that is Pa dot. They have the final say.

  • Old Timer

    Looks like the agrigate used in the cracked section is different than in the two good sections, maybe it’s not an adhesive issue. Could be the stone used is disintegrating.

  • Bill D

    The bottom line here is they will play pass the buck and scapegoat this bull until the only one on the hook for this mess is the taxpayer and i for one and SICK of it! If i hire you to roof my house, and it falls apart, you’re putting another roof on or I’m suing you in court! Where is the accountability here?

  • bobc74

    If the asphalt is still there from both 1988 and back in the 1960′s, what exactly are they removing with that machine that tool up asphalt before they repaved? And why haven’t they just cemented the interstate like it is between Wilkes-Barre and West Hazelton? Cement seems to hold up much, much better.

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