Thinking outside the box on road repair, construction

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

We haven't made a study of it, but a couple of innovative ideas have caught our eye in recent days when it comes to streets and highways.

A television report Tuesday how injected foam was being used to repair a major traffic artery in Grand Island, which apparently was improperly constructed in the first place.

Part of South Locus street has settled over the years for some reason, but instead of jackhammering out the concrete and starting over, a company which usually uses the technique to repair home foundations is injecting plastic foam to raise the surface of the concrete street level with adjoining sections.

The surface of the concrete is in good enough shape to make the project feasible, at considerable savings in money and time.

Foam is actually not unheard of when it comes to highway construction. Large blocks of foam are sometimes used as fill under concrete paving, especially where engineers hope to avoid settling on utilities crossing under the roadway. It's not the answer everywhere, however, since it can catch fire, dissolve when exposed to petroleum products, is susceptible to insect damage and is buoyant, potentially destroying the roadway in case of flooding.

District Superintendent Kurt Vosburg offered an attractive idea for Southwest Nebraska as a guest at the Gazette's Coffee With a Cop session Tuesday at Sehnert's Bakery.

While some would like to see a four-lane highway connecting Interstates 70 and 80 along Highway 83, that would cost about $40 million for every 10 miles to build. Those have two lanes of traffic each way and paved shoulders three to eight feet wide.

A possible alternative is a "Super 2" highway, with a passing lane about every five miles or as needed, variable-width paved shoulders and a cost of about $15 million for every 10 miles.

The Nebraska Department of Roads says upgrading a two-lane highway to a Super 2 provides more convenient passing opportunities that weren's there before. A Super 2 can be a major improvement for roadways where there are limited opportunities to pass or there is a lot of slower moving traffic.

Highway 83 offers a glimpse of the idea, with climbing and passing lanes just south of Hugh Butler Lake north of McCook and M Hill south of town.

Contemporaries of the late district engineer David Coolidge ribbed him about "Interstate 34" and the generous paved shoulders he built along U.S. Highways 6-34, but Southwest Nebraska drivers have enjoyed that innovation for years.

The heavily-traveled stretch of that highway between Culbertson and Cambridge seems like a prime candidate for a Super 2 project.

We can build more than twice as many miles of Super 2 highway for the same price as the same distance of four-lane.

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