Paving the Way to the Future

Roadwork on Eaton Rd. in Shaker Heights

Roadwork. It’s inconvenient. It’s loud. It’s messy – and, of course, it’s the only way to maintain the City’s 200-plus miles of streets.

But in Shaker Heights, roadwork is also an opportunity to ensure that what’s underneath our streets – most notably, the sewer and water lines – is repaired and, when necessary, replaced.

This comprehensive approach helps save the City – and taxpayers – money. “We don’t want to pave a road and then discover a problem, like a water main break,” says Christian Maier, assistant director of public works. “We try to do everything we can before repaving, so that once we’re done we won’t have to be back on that street anytime soon.”

This starts with the City’s annual determination of which streets to repave. Several factors go into this decision, explains Maier. “We have assigned scores to all the streets in Shaker based on their condition,” he notes. “They’re graded on a scale of five to one, five being the worst. We select as many of the fives as we can, based on our budget.”

The City spends approximately $2 million a year on its roadwork program. For larger projects, like the recent repaving of Shaker Boulevard, the City also receives funding from Cuyahoga County or the Ohio Department of Transportation. Over the past seven years, Shaker has received $6 million in outside funding for such projects.

“We also look at the other work that a street might require or have scheduled,” adds Maier. If a street is ranked as a five, but needs utility or other work – the City will hold off until those projects are complete.

The Repaving Process

“Our goal is to be under construction once the asphalt plants open in April,” says Maier.

But before any asphalt can be laid, the City’s Public Works Department must get a lot done. The first step: trim the trees on scheduled streets to limit damage to branches from the machinery.

Next, it’s sewers. “Every sewer main and lateral, from the test tee to the sewer main, gets cleaned, then inspected and repaired or replaced as necessary,” Maier explains.

Laterals are the pipes that connect your home to the sewer main; in addition to the sewer mains, the City is responsible for laterals on public property. “It’s not uncommon for us to have to do some lateral repairs and spot repairs to the sewer main,” says Maier.

Finally, it’s water mains and anything else that requires repair. Note: water mains are owned by the Cleveland Water Department. Twice a year, public works applies for funding to replace water mains on potential resurfacing streets.

Then, and only then, is it time for repaving. Here’s how that process – which is handled by a contractor – works:

Step 1: Milling

“A machine basically planes off the top three inches of the road and deposits it in a truck,” says Maier. “They can fill a truck in 15-20 minutes, so this process often involves six to 10 trucks, in addition to the milling machinery.”

Step 2: “Intermediate Course”

The contractor installs a layer of asphalt containing aggregates that help provide structure for the final layer of asphalt.

Step 3: Castings, Aprons, Curbs, and Ramps

Castings are manhole covers, valve boxes, and catch basins. They must be adjusted to ensure they function properly in the newly repaved street. Driveway aprons that are below, or more than two-and-one-quarter inches above, the repaved street are replaced. New curbs are installed as the budget allows. ADA-compliant ramps are installed at crosswalks.

Step 4: “Final Course”

This is the top layer of asphalt and, once laid, the bulk of the repaving work is complete.

Step 5: Site Restoration and Striping

Tree lawns are reseeded and other repairs are made as necessary. “The last piece is the striping,” says Maier. “We use a thermal plastic paint that has a lifespan of 3-5 years.”

This is the basic process for most streets in Shaker Heights, though there are some differences on the City’s busiest streets. “On a heavily used road, we often use a different type of asphalt and take other steps to ensure the base is more stable.” An engineer is also involved in the planning process for major roads.

While repaving may seem mostly an inconvenience for residents, they can help by heeding posted signs, such as no parking on streets during work hours. “We don’t want the machinery to have to sit idle because there’s a car parked there,” notes Maier, adding that residents should also follow detours when posted – “they’re there for your safety” – and please, do not allow children to play on the equipment.

RELATED: Hey, Shaker! podcast interview with Patti Speese, director of public works, about 2020 roadwork in Shaker Heights.

Originally published in Shaker Life Magazine, Spring 2020.