Sunshine puts Astoria's largest paving project back on trackClouds of steam rose from the hot asphalt streaming onto 38th Street from a Bayview Transit Mix Inc. dump truck Monday. Big signs set up by Bayview Transit at the intersection of Duane and 37th warned, "Road Closed - Paving in Progress." Astoria's huge summer paving project was under way again after a rainy interlude at the end of last week.

"Paving is a sunshine project. It likes dry weather," said Holli Pick, Astoria's engineering technician. "You can't overlay a damp street." Pick earned a degree in biology before going back to school to become a civil engineering technician. "I love the smell of asphalt," she said.

The five-block long segment of 38th Street being paved that day starts at Duane Street, runs under the Franklin Avenue bridge and dead-ends at Harrison Avenue. It's lined with older homes, many newly spruced up. Residents had cooperated with the pavers by moving their cars off the street so it could get the two-inch overlay originally scheduled for a week earlier.

"With the weather these last few days, we had to throw out the anchor a little bit on the schedule, but if we can't pave one day, we'll keep trying the next day and the next day," said Pick. The reason for rain delays is the hot tack, a kind of oil that's applied to a street before it's overlaid with asphalt. "It's like glue," Pick explained. "The surface has to be dry. Otherwise it (the tack) peels off. If it does, the overlay will peel off, too."

So on Monday, with sun beating down and temperatures soaring into the 80s, no one on the paving project complained.

At a cost of $1 million, this paving project, moving from east to west across Astoria, is the largest ever undertaken by the city. Pick and Mike Caccavano, Astoria's city engineer, used a pavement management program to compare the cost and effectiveness of preventive measures versus restorative measures for particular streets. Most streets will receive overlays and slurry seals, which are intended to protect existing streets.

This is the first major repair project for Astoria's streets since 1995. After turning down a road levy in 1997, Astoria voters narrowly approved a five-year $300,000 serial levy in November 2002. Although only the first year's worth of taxes from the 2002 levy has been collected, the city was able to go ahead with the project this year by obtaining an $800,000 loan. The loan will be paid off as tax collections come in over the remaining four years of the levy.

One million dollars is a big price tag for a small city like Astoria, but Astoria Public Works Director Mitch Mitchum said the project is extremely cost-effective. "If you allow a road to completely go to pot, it costs five or 10 times as much to fix," Mitchum said.

The project came just in the nick of time according to Bob Bridgens, job superintendent for Bayview. The company was the low bidder at $886,913, 10 percent below the Astoria engineering department's estimate for the job. "Astoria's streets are very, very much in need of paving ... If they had let it go another couple of years, they would have lost some streets," Bridgens said. "What we're doing are preventive measures, and $1 million is just a drop in the bucket."

Seaside-based Bayview Transit Mix has been doing business in Clatsop County since 1953. It was owned by the Perrigo family until several years ago, when it was purchased by Lakeside Industries of Issaquah, Wash. Bridgens has been with Bayview a long time. His son, Adam Bridgens, who graduated from Warrenton High School in 1994, is employed by Bayview as a quality controller. He uses a nuclear gauge to test the density of asphalt on jobs here and in the Portland area.

By 10:30 Monday morning, the seven Bayview dump trucks working on the 38th Street job had made a total of a dozen trips from Seaside to Astoria, each one carrying 15 to 16 tons of hot asphalt in its transfer box. Each big truck had come up 37th Street from Lief Erickson Drive, maneuvered backwards along Duane to 38th, then continued up 38th Street hill in reverse.

As each truck bed was tilted upward, hot asphalt spewed onto the street in front of paving machines attached to the back of the truck, one on each side. Next, Bayview employees, sporting bright orange shirts with a new company logo, used upside-down rakes to spread the asphalt. Then a roller compacted it, so it would form a bond with the oily tack that had been applied to the area earlier. Finally, an employee using a plate compactor, which looks like a little lawnmower, finished the edges of the street that the roller was too big to reach.

Meanwhile, John LaLonde, engineering aide for the city, kept sticking a thermometer into the asphalt to be sure it didn't cool off too much before it was rolled. LaLonde, a 2003 graduate of Seaside High School, is studying to become a civil engineer. Asphalt leaves Bayview's plant in Seaside at a temperature of 300 degrees, and must be completely compacted before its temperature drops below 180 degrees. A big, black tarpaulin keeps it hot until it's applied to the roadway.

In two hours, two blocks had been covered with asphalt.

As paving continued near the top of the hill, a yellow distributor truck with a tank full of tack and a prominently displayed fire extinguisher, sat at the bottom of the hill, waiting to be called to into action. It sprayed most of the tack out the bottom of the truck, but there were two ancient-looking sprinkling cans sitting behind it, to be used on small, hard-to-reach spots.

Bridgens said streets must be totally dry in order for the special tack the city requires for this project to adhere. But he said a little moisture is actually a good thing when it comes to paving gravel roads that have never been paved before. So last week, on a day when most paving had to be postponed because it had rained the day before, a steep, one-block-long stretch of Ninth Street between Harrison and Grand avenues got its first coat of asphalt.

Pick was on scene when Ninth Street went from bumpy to smooth. She explained that gravel achieves its maximum compaction when it's a little wet, governed by the same principle that applies to sand castles. "Try to build a sand castle using dry sand," Pick said. "It's the same thing with rock, and once it dries out a little, you can pave it." Two other gravel streets will also be paved, including Exchange Street between Hume and First streets, which has been gravel ever since a landslide in the 1950s.

Bob Bridgens expects the Astoria project go on about another month and a half, depending, of course, on the weather. He said city staff have been very good to work with, and he thanked Astoria residents for being so willing to move their cars for paving, sometimes more than once when rain forces a schedule change.

"These guys are great, they're doing a great job," Pick said.

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