by Frank DeLoach
CORNELIUS – Drivers on Jetton Road have complained off and on for years about potholes and the pavement that always seems to be crumbling.
But those drivers and residents of The Peninsula community might be surprised at one of the causes of the hated potholes: large amounts of water used to irrigate the golf course median and landscaping on both sides of the road.
That’s the diagnosis of state highway officials, at least, though the head of the Peninsula Property Owners Association disputes that theory.
The same problem plagues busy Rea Road, a four-lane thoroughfare that runs through the Piper Glen community in south Charlotte, state officials say. Both are four-lane roads maintained by the N.C. Department of Transportation that pass through high-end, well-landscaped communities with landscaped medians.
Earlier this year, at the request of Peninsula residents, Cornelius town officials asked state highway officials to consider a more extensive type of repair called reclaiming on Jetton Road. Rather than just fixing the top layer of pavement, reclaiming involves digging down into the base under the pavement and replacing the ground that might have eroded.
The state “reclaimed” Bailey Road at the same time that it widened the road in preparation for the opening of Hough High School.
At a town board meeting, Cornelius Town Manager Anthony Roberts said state officials had refused to reclaim Jetton. They told Roberts they would not consider spending the extra money because irrigation from the golf course and landscaping was contributing to the problem.
For the same reason, state road officials wouldn’t let Cornelius put irrigation systems in the median of West Catawba Avenue, when that road was widened. State officials didn’t want the water from sprinklers pooling on the pavement and working its way into the base under the road, Roberts said.
Louis Mitchell, the state’s district engineer for Mecklenburg County, confirmed that his staff feels irrigation contributes to deterioration of pavement on Jetton and Rea roads.
The state resurfaced Jetton Road in 2004-2005, Mitchell said. “and typically, we expect to get 10 to 12 years out of a road. Because of the constant moisture, the road already has deteriorated, and it’s simply not going to be feasible” to spend the extra money for the more extensive reclaiming work.
Mitchell said his staff asked property owners associations in the area and their landscapers to train the sprinkler heads differently. But that hasn’t helped.
“We can’t revenue-wise afford to repave Jetton until 2014-15,” he added.
Besides the water, Jetton and Rea roads each has its own characteristics that foster deteriorating pavement.
Jetton is considered a collector, so it doesn’t have the high volume or fast speeds that Rea does. But it also doesn’t have the slope of Rea, so water spilling over from sprinklers tends to sit on the pavement and seep down to the base, Mitchell said.
Jim Duke, president of the Peninsula Property Owners Association disputed Mitchell’s assertions.
“I have never in five years as president of the (Peninsula association) ever been in touch with the district engineer about redirecting our irrigation sprinkler heads,” Duke said in an email to the Herald Weekly. “In point of fact, we have a full-time irrigation tech on site who monitors and tests all parts of the system to ensure that it works properly. We have had few episodes of street irrigation, and they were solved immediately.
“Second, Jetton Road began deteriorating within a few years of its construction. The problem was a poorly laid base upon which to pave the final surface. About a half dozen years ago, (the N.C. Department of Transportation) put a new layer of pavement on the old base without properly fixing the ‘underlying’ problem. This surface was doomed to fail and began doing so a few years back. Each year the problems multiply because it was never fixed correctly to begin with. In 2008 we were banned from irrigation due to the drought, yet the road continued to deteriorate. This year’s repairs were the most extensive, but the road now looks like a patchwork of band-aid solutions.
“Third, how can irrigation undermine a properly built road or an improperly built road for that matter? We irrigate in the summer. Damage to the road surface is principally caused by water (rain and snow) accumulating under the surface and freezing. Sorry, no freezing when we irrigate.”