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Editorial: Reflux on the Sunderland Road repaving job in Amherst

Pavers on North Pleasant in Amherst Friday afternoon.

Pavers on North Pleasant in Amherst Friday afternoon. Purchase photo reprints »

The town of Amherst is going to take a close look at why the new pavement on Sunderland Road is breaking up less than five months after it was put down. The conditions when the work was done may be factors. It may also be a case of getting what you pay for.

Sunderland Road is a short but busy stretch that runs from the center of North Amherst out to Route 116.

Last fall, Amherst hired an asphalt firm from Illinois to use its “Recycled Hot Emulsified Asphalt Treatment,” or ReHeat technique, to put a new top coat on Sunderland Road as well as on parts of North Pleasant Street and University Drive.

Now, big potholes have emerged on Sunderland Road and DPW Chief Guilford Mooring expects more of them before spring. His crews will be out patching and the asphalt contractor will be back in the spring to evaluate the work and make repairs under the project’s warranty.

When the work was done in November, town officials said the resurfacing process not only saved money but was the most environmentally friendly form of road reconstruction available. The Gazette’s headline on the job read: “Amherst using green resurfacing technique” and town officials who were quoted stressed the environmental benefits of the ReHeat road surfacing process.

But there were questions even then.

Janet Callahan, president of Palmer Paving, a western Massachusetts firm that manufactures and uses traditional hot mix asphalt, challenged the Re-Heat technique, its claim to environmental superiority and whether a lower bid would translate to higher costs later on. “It remains to be seen whether the town has, in fact, saved money both for the short and long term,” wrote Callahan, in a guest column in the Gazette.

Callahan competes with Re-Heat companies for contracting work, so she has her biases.

Nevertheless, she noted that the state Department of Transportation’s specifications for hot mix asphalt are higher than those for the product the Re-Heat companies lay down, which raises her costs and tilts the playing field when bidding on jobs.

If that is the case, it deserves a closer look.

She also challenged whether there was true reduction of greenhouse gasses from the Re-Heat process as claimed.

Town Manager John Musante said the process uses one-third of the energy needed to mill and resurface a road. “Cooker” vehicles heat the road to 400 degrees before scraping up the layer of asphalt, mixing it with emulsified asphalt and spreading it down again as a new surface. That means fewer diesel trucks hauling materials to and from the work site, reducing air pollution, said Musante.

Not so fast, argued Callahan. She counters that heating a road to near flashpoint uses a lot of fossil fuel and creates greenhouse gases that are not regulated. Today’s trucks have emissions control systems specified by the Environmental Protection Agency and her asphalt plant “is required to meet the most stringent air quality standards in the nation.”

Mooring wants to review whether it was too wet and cold when the work was done and whether the base was too deteriorated for the Re-Heat process to be appropriate.

Other road surfaces in town treated by the same company at the same time have held up so far, but there will be more freeze-and-thaw cycles in the weeks ahead to put them to the test. If Amherst can save money and use innovative technology, we’re all for it.

But Callahan raised important questions about Re-Heat process, as does the sorry condition of Sunderland Road today.

Legacy Comments1

OK, but what does the word 'reflux' mean as used in the headline?

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