LAKE COUNTY – Using an inexpensive and versatile technology helped the Lake County Road Maintenance Division save money in a recent road project while, at the same time, earning it an award from a statewide organization.

The California Chip Seal Association, a nonprofit trade organization, awarded the county its 2009 “Innovative Project of the Year,” which county Roads Superintendent Steve Stangland presented to the Board of Supervisors at its March 10 meeting.

The award recognizes unique pavement preservation projects that provide learning opportunities for local agencies, according to the meeting’s board memo.

The project for which the county was honored was a chip seal project completed last summer on Highland Springs Road and Big Valley Road between Highway 29 and Soda Bay Road, Stangland told Lake County News.

Originally, the project was scheduled to be a conventional pavement overlay, which Stangland said had an estimated price tag of more than $360,000. However, the final price tag was $171,000, including labor and equipment.

With road dollars being in short supply these days – both the state and federal governments are increasingly taking funds away, Stangland said – the roads department decided to try a unique approach to getting more out of the project.

Stangland came to the county roads department five years ago from Mendocino County, where they used a product called Permazyme, an enzyme that – when mixed into the road bed – turns it into a shale-like substance.

It doesn’t turn into shale but it’s darned near close to it, he said, adding that it’s a certified green product.

Stangland said that in 2005 the county purchased an asphalt zipper with SB 621 funds, which come from Indian gaming. The Highland Springs Road project also was funded through SB 621.

They put the Permazyme in the water truck, which is then hooked to the zipper. The zipper blends about a gallon of enzyme to 150 cubic yards of dirt as it’s grinding, he explained. In turn, the material being ground gets very hard and cures quickly.

“We didn’t invent it but we put the best of the new with the old practices,” he said.

They were able to save enough money using the enzymes that they decided to grind up the entire road and try putting on a single chip seal. “Ninety percent of the roads around Lake County are nothing more than a chip seal,” Stangland said.

Chip seal, he explained, involves spraying a coat of oil – or, in this case, the latest in emulsion technology – over the top of the road, the existing asphalt or over a stabilized road bed. They spray oil down then dump small, chipped up rock over the top of it.

In this case, however, they went with a very large rock, which was used for several reasons. Stangland explained that they were trying to get the low tire spray during rainy times that is seen on state highways such as Highway 29 between Lakeport and Upper Lake. That comes from a process called open graded asphalt, which he said is extremely expensive and doesn’t last very long.

Thanks to the savings the Lake County Road Maintenance Division was able to realize in a road project in the summer of 2009 along Highland Springs and Big Valley Road, they were able to afford adding a bike lane.Photo courtesy of the Lake County Road Maintenance Division.

Chip seals, on the other hand, have been proven to not only be very durable and long lasting, but cost a fraction of any asphalt product.

They recycled all the material on site, blending it into the existing asphalt with the enzymes added, a process which he said took about a week to complete.

“This is recycling at its best,” he said. “We added very little imported material.”

He said they try not to add any imported material when possible. For one, it’s an issue of ever dwindling funds set against rising asphalt prices. When Stangland started in road work 15 years ago, asphalt ran $35 a ton, while today it costs about $80 a ton.

“Asphalt is just absolutely, outrageously expensive,” he said.

Then there’s the issue of diminishing supply. Stangland pointed to a US Geological Survey report that found in the next 50 years California is going to run out of quarry rock.

The portion of Big Valley Road to the highway underwent a process of “full-depth reclamation,” Stangland said, with the road being reworked on its full width at a depth of 8 inches.

Thanks to the savings, they were able to extend into a second phase of shoulder repair, because the shoulders on Big Valley Road from Highland Springs to Soda Bay were in really bad shape, said Stangland.

Using the asphalt zipper, they went down the road edges and ground them down. “That was a whole other experiment, if you will,” he said.

Using the same technology, we were able to clean up and strengthen the road edges and – as a bonus – were able to add a bike lane.

They also used it on a four-mile stretch on Big Canyon Road outside of Middletown, where Stangland said the road literally had potholes big enough to swallow a Volkswagen.

Stangland said they didn’t have the money to resurface that stretch of road, which is very low volume. So they turned it back to dirt, reshaped and compacted it, and he said it’s holding up very well, thanks to the Permazyme, which bonds well with clays.

“What we learned on Big Canyon we applied to Highland Springs,” he said. “Every time we use Permazyme – which hasn’t been widely marketed – is “awesome,” and Stangland said he enzymes, we learn different techniques to make the next project better and new ways of using it.” He loves working with it. He’s developing ways to use it in everyday maintenance.

He said he and his road crew learned a lot from the process and plan to use that knowledge in upcoming projects, including a federally funded project for shoulder strengthening and bike lanes in the county-maintained road area on Lakeshore Boulevard outside of the Lakeport city limits.