Drivers upset paving work is coating cars

Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2000

Educator Zina Higgs got herself transferred to a Mendenhall Valley elementary school so she could avoid driving downtown. But when she returned from vacation last Wednesday, she couldn't avoid making the trip.

"It was bumper to bumper, stop and go on Egan Drive, smelly and steamy," Higgs said. "We rolled up the windows. I have a red truck that I won three years ago through Juneau Youth Football. I keep it really nice and polished up, and it irked me that tar got on the driver's side."

Higgs suggests that the Egan Drive asphalt contractor erect a fabric banner, low in the middle of the road to shield traffic from tar blobs.

She tried to remove the tar, which had spotted her truck from one end to the other.

"It's pretty sticky stuff. It just smears," she said.

Next she contacted her insurer, State Farm, which politely reminded her of her $100 deductible.

As a Juneau resident since 1981, Higgs thinks it's great that the contractor set up orange cones to protect employees. But what about drivers? According to the state Department of Transportation, 30,900 is the average number of trips per day on Egan, with an increase projected to 31,400 by 2005.

"A lot of cars have got this stuff on them. It's a small town," Higgs said. "We need to be more careful with our residents, too."

When Teresa Tucker sees paving trucks of sticky, steaming asphalt, her reaction is just the opposite of Higgs. Tucker exults, "Those are money trucks."

Her son Lonnie, who has owned and operated Wet Willy's car wash with his mom for the past 10 years, laughs.

"I don't want to be a millionaire, but I recommend people get their cars washed every two weeks to keep ahead of (road grime). If you keep up on it, it won't be such a bad problem," Lonnie Tucker said.

"I have had about 25 vehicles through the car wash that have been just atrocious. It's bad news stuff. Most people are waiting (until the paving is completed) to get cleaned up," Tucker said.

Exterior detailing is the best method of removing tar. Wet Willy's charges $40 for two hours of hand detail work using a product called Big Orange. The cleaner contains an oily, aromatic citrus rind extract capable of breaking down tar, Tucker said.

Secon Inc., an associate of Juneau Asphalt, is the contractor for the eight miles of Egan Drive undergoing expansion and re-surfacing. Secon handles jobs only in Alaska, and has offices here and in Kirkland, Wash. Secon could not be reached for comment.

The state is paying for the Egan Drive work.

"I am surprised about complaints about road tar," said Gary Hayden, director of construction and maintenance for the state Department of Transportation's Southeast region.

What he believes is sticking to vehicles is tack coat, an emulsified asphalt squirted on the prepared road surface before the top coat. Tack coat is spread on the area estimated to be done in a single day, and the prepared area is marked off by cones most of the time, Hayden said.

In other words, "stay out of tack lanes as much as possible," and your vehicle should be unblemished, Hayden said.

The project's completion date depends on rain and winter, he said.

"The contractor has done a good job taking every weather window," Hayden said. "We need about six more days of main line paving and another three days of shoulder work to complete Egan."

Other roads involved in the area-wide paving project are Glacier Highway from the Williams Express gas station to the intersection with Vanderbilt Hill Road, and Ninth and Tenth streets downtown. Those jobs can be, and probably will be, put off until next spring or summer, Hayden said.



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