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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.


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