Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Repaving at night, road crews' delight

By ByWilliam A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The heat rising from the 300-plus degree asphalt in the paving machine that's inching along Interstate 75 makes Mark Rucker feel like he's in a steam room.

        But at least there's no sun bearing down.

        “That's one advantage of working at night” says Mr. Rucker, 36, of Lucasville.

        It's summertime. Time for repairs and improvements to the interstate highways — much of which is done under the light of the silvery moon.

        That means road workers Don Eiler mann, Danny Wheelsburg, Dave Dunlap and Mr. Rucker have to adjust their body clocks to night-time work schedules.

        There's too much traffic on roads like I-75 in Cincinnati to shut down any lanes during the daytime for road re pairs. And paving has to be done during warm weather.

        “If we tried to do this during the day we'd (the traffic) be backed up to Louisville,” says Mr. Eilermann, project inspector for the Ohio Department of Transportation.

        And shutting down the interstate completely to get the paving done quicker is not an option.

        “This stretch here is one of the busiest highways in the country. If we tried to shut it down people would go berserk,” says Mr. Eilermann, of North College Hill.

        On this particular night, workers have shut down the two left-hand lanes of I-75 north from the Harrison Avenue to I-74 to pave the high speed lane.

        An ARTIMIS sign alerts motorists “Slow traffic eases at 74.”

        “It's a little cooler, but the traffic is more dangerous at night,” says Mr. Wheelsburg, construction foreman for L.P. Cavett & Co., the project's general contractor.

        The cooler nights help offset the heat coming from the asphalt paving machine.

        “It about 325 to 350 (degrees),” Mr. Dunlap says of the hot asphalt. “It has to be rolled before it gets (down) to 295.”

        Ahead of the asphalt paving machine is Tony Harr, 36, of Rarden operating the tar sprayer.

        “The cars will slow down when they see the red and blue flashing lights (two Cincinnati police cruisers assigned to the project). They won't slow down for anything else (yellow flashing lights on the construction vehicles and equipment),” he says

        The paving process goes like this: A large grinding machine removes one and a half inches off the surface of a 7-foot wide section of the existing pavement; a sweeper machine follows cleaning away any debris; a sprayer machine puts down a tar adhesive; a gigantic asphalt machine deposits one and a half inches of hot asphalt; a roller machine smooths out the asphalt; and new traffic lane lines are painted.

        If things go smoothly, the workers can complete about 1.25 miles of paving a night. If they're closing down one lane, they are allowed to work from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. If they closed two lanes, they have to be finish a half hour earlier.

        The vast majority of the motorists are understanding of the delays caused by the road improvements, Mr. Wheelsburg says. But there are also a few who feel the need to verbally express their frustration at the reduced speeds and subsequent delays.

        “From time to time, they'll yell and holler,” says Mr. Rucker, as he works on the paving machine. “I just smile and wave.”

        Recalls Mr. Wheelsburg: “There have been cases (on other jobs) when beer bottles and bricks have been thrown at us.”

        If you have suggestion for Night Watch, call William A. Weathers at 768-8390; fax 768-8340.


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