Sticky bit of driving

Sticky. That probably best sums up the situation on Mitchell Drive and surrounding streets of the Heights subdivision in Liberty Lake.

Some residents claim that the city of Liberty Lake fixed what wasn’t broken. A City Hall official said the new chip-seal coating that was applied to area roadways was intended to extend the life of the street.

A petition with dozens of names on it is set to be presented to the City Council Tuesday in hopes of having the problem fixed.

By that time, Doug Smith, director of community development for the city, hopes he has an answer for the up-in-arms residents and council.

“We’re looking at a couple of different alternatives to soften it up a bit.”

One fix was tested Thursday. “We actually have a much smaller aggregate. Basically it will fill the voids in the larger aggregate. I think it’s going to be a great alternative,” Smith said.

Gary Myhre, a 10-year resident, claims the 15 year-old pavement “still was in pretty good condition.” Smith said the goal was to extend the life of the street. He admits that “it’s a little rougher than everyone expected,” adding “we may have missed the mark as far as expectations.”

Chip-sealing is a process where gravel is laid over a bed of tar, and vehicle traffic is used to roll the mix of rocks and tar and help it form a hardened surface.

While tar is at the center of the dispute, the situation has turned more into an old-fashioned taffy pull of differing opinions.

Formation of a Local Improvement District a few years ago allowed for paving and installation of curbing in what was one of the first new subdivisions to extend north from the original lakeside community.

“We had beautiful blacktop from curb to curb so why was it even touched is my first question?” Gering asked. “When you have a good street don’t mess with it. Why would we waste tax dollars?”

Smith said this road resurfacing project came after seeing success with an earlier chip-seal fix. “We had done a demonstration project last year to see if this application is a viable option for a residential area,” Smith said. “It appears that is was,” Smith said of the test done on Homestead Road. The aggregate used is smaller, and the surface is much more smooth than that found on Mitchell.

Useful life on these streets is 20 years, and the roads are in need of repair, Smith said.

“No, it’s not an improvement, it’s a downgrade,” said Gail Gering, a Mitchell Drive resident. “There was nothing wrong with this street at all. Mitchell Drive was in perfect condition.”

The chip seal was done with too big of rock, Myhre claims. “It’s not embedding down into the tar. What they did is turn an asphalt road into a gravel road.”

“The aggregate choice, that was something our contractor decided to (do to) give them a better street than what we expect,” according to Smith.

Myhre and others might beg to differ. Myhre said neighbors “are all mad as wet hens.” Among those this project has irritated are walkers, mothers with baby strollers, skaters, skateboarders and bicycle riders.

Smith has heard the same concerns, but, he said, “We built the streets for vehicular traffic, not for pedestrians.”

The sticky surface has been in place for some two weeks now, but the aggregate can be scooped up with a finger. That is if you want a black stain on your finger that requires gasoline or some specialty product in order to remove.

“If you parked on the street and I invited you into my house I’d have to ask you to take your shoes off,” said Gering, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1983. “You’re going to track in tar and oil. And yes I have it on my carpets now from people that I miss.”

Being hard on carpets is of concern to Gering. But there’s a bigger picture in her mind. “Obviously it will hurt our home values and stuff. Because would you buy a house on my gravel road?” she asks.

“There are not any people around us who are happy. We pretty much canvassed the area. We’ve asked them are you happy, and they’re not,” Gering said.

That is in contrast to what Smith claims. He’s hearing that “by in large people see this as an improvement. Outside the Mitchell area,” he added.


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