The Asphalt Jungle Changes Meaning in the Suburbs

By Bill Primavera

The Home Guru

The Asphalt Jungle, a 1950 film noir based on the novel of the same name by W. R. Burnett, might conjure up images of crime in the city, but in the suburbs, it could very well describe the constant battle of maintaining our town roads, especially in recessionary times.

And the surprisingly bad condition of many of the roads we travel every day affects the perception of our towns and neighborhoods, as well as the perceived value of our homes.

Because my own street had not been paved for at least 25 years, I am very sensitive to this issue, especially since a buyer prospect who visited my home, now on the market, asked, “Why does your street look so bad?”

However, on a recent morning when I had slept in a little later than my usual routine, I woke to the sound of equipment operating on my street, and I thought, oh, no, what the heck is happening now? But I rejoiced when, lo and behold, I peeked out and saw an enormous truck filled with steaming asphalt, a smell that I happen to like, almost comparable to the slight high I get when using rubber cement.

I quickly got dressed and ran down to the street to personally welcome the crew, headed by Eric DiBartolo, our hands-on, very competent highway superintendent in Yorktown who was there to personally supervise the job.

It was a perfect opportunity to ask why it had been such a long time between pavings.  He replied, “When I first came into office 16 years ago, the roads were on a 10-year cycle for re-paving, but because of budgets, that has been extended to a 20-year cycle today.”  I guess somehow my street got lost in the shuffle since its life far surpassed even the extended cycle.

But during that time, DiBartolo has done a great job clearing the roads of snow in winter and trying his best to repair them in spring, the latter a tremendous challenge as he strives each year to get the budget needed for repair. It’s not easy. “A dozen years ago, the budget for road repair was close to $600,000 in our town,” he said. “This year, it’s about $300,000.”    

Until the 1950s, most major roads were constructed of concrete, but beginning at that time as the suburbs grew, their roads were paved in asphalt because of its cheaper cost, ease of installation and repair.  However, the heaviest traveled roads, such as I-95, are still concrete which is better in bearing the load of heavy trucks.

You may know the story about how the concrete and automobile lobbies conspired in the 1950s to get the interstate highway system together at the expense of public transportation. It’s a fascinating study.

When I moved to my town more than 30 years ago, our main road, then cared for by the county, was concrete, installed in sections with cracks in between that produced a loud, consistent sound when riding over them. Soon after our arrival, it too was covered with smooth asphalt that looked and rode much better.

I wondered about the composition of an asphalt mix and was educated by Bob Yaremko, Assistant VP of Peckham Industries, the major supplier of asphalt in this region.  He told me that the “glue” of the mix is liquid asphalt, the heavy black material that is left from crude oil after the other products like gasoline and motor oil are refined from it.  Paving asphalt is composed of six percent liquid asphalt, mixed with sand and stone.

The mix is heated to about 300 degrees then dumped into a very long “slow boy” truck which then delivers the paving material to the site. “The advantage of the large ‘slow boy’ is that it features a conveyor which pushes the mix out on to the road without having to be lifted and dumped,” Yaremko said.

After the asphalt is spread evenly along the road, a huge roller, which operates with water cascading over its surface to prevent the material from sticking to the drum, flattens and compresses the mix.

Because of that recent procedure, my street has transformed from the ugliest to the nicest looking in town. The downside is that it makes my abutting landscaping look a little overgrown, so now I have to catch up with the Joneses and prune everything back to have it match the sleeker look of the street. 

There’s always something to keep me busy outside, but this is a small price to pay to guard against the possibility of my stumbling over a pothole the next time I’m taking a stroll down the block.

 Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® associated with Coldwell Banker and a lifestyles columnist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. For those seeking advice on home maintenance or who want to buy or sell a home, visit his website, www.PrimaveraHomes.com, or call him directly at 914-522-2076.