DelDOT: New road treatment will save lives

SMYRNA — A truck slowly drove down the roadway, pouring a viscous brownish liquid from a tube in the back.

Supported by a beam stretching from the truck, a basket-like contraption hung behind it, scattering small rocks onto the surface.

Laborers on foot followed, spreading the rocks out across the lane with industrial squeegees. A flagger waved cars through, and drivers moved slowly by, staying in the one open lane.

With the morning mist having finally receded, the workers were able to begin the process of fixing up the road.

This was the scene Monday on Mount Friendship Road as the Delaware Department of Transportation detailed the agency’s new road treatment method.

Aiming to reduce the number of cars slipping and sliding in designated dangerous areas, DelDOT began the new practice of high-friction surface treatment last week. They are focusing on road segments with high numbers of single-car crashes.

“This program is one of our new systemic safety programs where we utilize crash data to look at what kind of measures we can do to prevent crashes from happening,” DelDOT project manager Richard Palmer said.

“This high-friction surface treatment is one where we’ll be putting down an epoxy resin and then a special stone that resists polishing and wear, and it will bring the friction value of the roadway up to where it’ll help, especially in wet conditions,” he added.

While the practice makes the road a bit bumpier, it also makes it skid-resistant.

Department officials identified 15 key areas where high numbers of accidents had been reported.

Hired by DelDOT, Ohio-based contractor Poly-Carb has just begun the treatment in Delaware. DelDOT entered into a three-year contract with the company, which has been using the high-friction method for 22 years.

Over the next few weeks, Poly-Carb will apply the product throughout the state. For now, most of the locations are in Sussex County. But, officials will likely identify more key spots come spring.

In Kent County, the only problematic area being worked on is a sharp curve south of the Smyrna-Clayton area.

Approximately 10 workers gathered there Monday morning. After they cleaned grime off the road and the fog dissipated, the treatment began.

The workers started spreading epoxy in the southbound lane around 11 and planned to finish covering a 2,000-foot long stretch of road within the next two hours.

By 4 p.m., the lane likely would be re-opened, personnel on the scene said. The higher the temperature, the faster the mix dries.

Poly-Carb plans to do the other lane today. In total, workers will cover about 4,000 square feet at Mount Friendship Road at a cost of about $14,000 for DelDOT.

The high-friction surface treatment stands up to the elements and should last five years or more, Mr. Palmer said.

The method has limitations, but DelDOT believes it has found a suitable way to reduce skidding and the number of accidents.

“Now, it won’t solve any problems underneath,” Mr. Palmer said.

“It’s only as good as the surface you put it on,” observer Sen. David Lawson, R-Marydel, chimed in.

Other states have found success using the treatment.

AAA Mid-Atlantic, a transportation lobbying organization, is optimistic about the work’s potential.

Workers applied the treatment to an I-95 ramp last week.

After finishing the Mount Friendship Road project, they will head to Sussex County. According to DelDOT, they will finish in New Castle County in about two weeks, although bad weather could cause delays.

DelDOT intended to complete the five New Castle locations first but was deterred for reasons beyond its control.

Due to the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia, the department could not obtain the road signs needed to warn drivers of road closures, Mr. Palmer said.

Poly-Carb will return to each site after completion to clear off excess gravel.

It’s a relatively experimental tactic for now, but it could pay off big, according to DelDOT.

“If this performs well, you’re going to see it in a lot more areas,” said DelDOT project supervisor Rich Roberts.

“Anything that saves lives is good.”

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