One might ask what would be the thread that ties the above, diverse issues, together. The answer to that question came knocking on my door, in the form of a dust cloud, during the weekend of September 8, 2013.
My house is next to Route 28A, the road that winds around the Ashokan Reservoir. That weekend, the dust on 28A was so intense that it made me wonder if I had been transported, in time and space, to the dust bowl of Oklahoma, in the 1930s. The dust was all over the road, in the air, in my car, in my house, and in my lungs.
I assumed that the project to repave 28A was somewhere in mid-construction. I called to ask when the trucks were going to come, to finally lay down the pavement. I quickly learned that the road was owned by the New York City DEP, and that they were the ones, to call and to ask.
A very nice and very forthcoming gentleman, the man in charge of the road project, took my call and answered my question. His answer shocked me. The answer was “never.” They were done. This was the final layer.
Over a period of a few phone calls, he explained that this was a road that was called a “tar and chip” road, and that it was the most economical (least expensive) way to keep DEP’s roads up.
I researched “tar and chip roads” on the internet and learned that the “chip” in this road is not made from natural stone, but is made with Bitumen (more about Bitumen later). I learned about the impact of this kind of road on cars, drivers, waterways, drinking water, and air quality.
I learned that “tar and chip” roads are most commonly used by economically strained (poor) rural counties, on their less traveled, rural roads.
Some of the drawbacks of this kind of road:
“Can cause safety and environment problems such as cracked windshields, loss of control, and crashes (especially for motorcyclists, bicyclists, and small trucks);” That “the rough surface causes a notable increase in vibration and rolling resistance for cars and bicyclists, and increased wear on all types of tires;” and that “There are incidents of loose chips hitting the underside of your car, debris from passing trucks hitting the sides of your car and striking your windshield.”
The “tar and chip” road may appear to be economical way to build a road, but it creates hazards for drivers, cars, trucks and bicyclists.
However, the environmental impact of building such a road, particularly near reservoir waters, is more profound.
Chips of Bitumen
The chip material is Bitumen. Bitumen is what is left after petroleum products have been used to create energy, or plastics, or whatever. It is basically an end use for petroleum products. Sometimes, it is the original petroleum product, the infamous, dirty, Canadian Tar Sands.
The “chip” that is laid down in the construction of these roads doesn’t stay in the road. Over time, it is pushed to the sides of the road, where it drains into the soil, then into the streams, then into the rivers. However, in this case we are not talking about just any rural county road, we are talking about roads, around, and next to, the Ashokan Reservoir.
The various chemicals found in Bitumen contain many VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds). There is a list of 13 types of potentially toxic ingredients in bitumen. The list includes mercury, lead, and arsenic.
It is incredulous to me that this is the kind of road we, (or the N.Y.C. DEP), are choosing to build around our precious Ashokan Resevoir. Ironically, although the larger, core mission of the DEP is to keep it’s Reservoir waters clean, the road construction arm of the DEP is opting for an inexpensive, but toxic road.