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PennDOT to resume road-sealing program

| Tuesday, June 24, 2008, 12:00 p.m.

PennDOT today will resume its tar and chip program in Allegheny County and has replaced a contractor who used a faulty sealant mixture along 20 miles of roadway, causing extensive damage.

The state highway agency pledged Monday to repair the roads where the bad mixture caused potholes and rutting, and apply properly mixed sealant on another 130 miles of roads this year.

"The bottom line is to do what's right for the traveling public," PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi said.

PennDOT might sue Marathon Petroleum Co. of Findlay, Ohio, which supplied the faulty mixture of an oil-based emulsion and stones, forcing the agency to stop the work earlier this month. Rather than hardening to form a protective coating, the mixture remained liquid and damaged the road underneath, causing the stones to clump and creating potholes in some spots.

The defective material was applied to Beulah Road in Churchill, Leechburg Road in Plum and Thompson Run Road in Ross. Sections of Noblestown Road in Pittsburgh's western neighborhoods had to be repaired because the damage was serious.

PennDOT would not say why the initial batch failed.

"We're fairly certain it was bad material," Struzzi said.

The state Department of General Services awarded Marathon a $282,100 contract to provide the mix for Allegheny County. PennDOT has not terminated Marathon's contract but is not buying material from the company as the highway agency weighs its options.

PennDOT has hired Russell Standard of Bridgeville to fix the problems and complete the road preservation program this year. The contractor will repair damaged roads either by removing the damaged sections and resurfacing the road with asphalt or by applying a new tar and chip layer.

Work will be performed through the summer, starting this week with Bettis Road in West Mifflin, Bellbridge Road in Liberty and River Road in Forward.

The coating keeps moisture from trickling into the road's cracks and causing damage. It is used mostly on roads with less traffic, often in suburban and rural areas, as a low-cost option to improve the condition of roads and make them last longer before a more expensive resurfacing is required.

This was the first problem PennDOT experienced with its tar and chip mix. The problem was isolated to work in Allegheny County.

So far, about 105,000 gallons of the oil-based sealant have been used this year out of the 476,000 planned across the county.

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