Mick Jones can relate to the weatherman.
As the city's streets operations supervisor, his line of work is also dependent on elements that fall from the sky, and in a northern climate that wreaks havoc on road surfaces, the demands of the public often exceed the supply of dry days needed to fix those roads.
Fortunately for Jones and city motorists, July's splendid sunshine, above-average temperatures and very little rain have allowed the city's road crack sealing crew to make steady progress tackling a job that prevents potholes from forming.
"We need warm dry weather and the road needs to be dry," said Jones. "It's fairly labour-intensive type work, with five guys in the crew that does it. We're trying to ramp up our crack seal program. You have to keep the water out of the road, that's the biggest thing for preserving it. As soon as there's a small crack there's water getting into the soil and as traffic drives over it, the hole gets bigger."
A high-pressure hose is used to clean out dirt and debris from the crack, which is then filled with an emulsified rubberized asphalt compound. Blocks of the substance are heated to high temperatures on a trailer and pumped through a hose and applied to the crack. The filled crack is then covered with a talc similar to baby powder that minimizes dust pollution and allows the seam to dry quickly so vehicles can drive over the repaired surface almost immediately.
July and August are the two months Prince George dedicates to crack sealing. If the weather and budget will allow it, that work will be extended into the fall. Sections of University Way, Foothills Boulevard, Fifth Avenue, Domano Boulevard, and Ospika Boulevard have been crack sealed.
"It's a pretty standard crack-seal material we've used as long as I can remember," said Jones. "We're using a Ministry of Transportation-approved product and we rely on them because the ministry paves a lot more than any municipality will. If it's good enough for them it should be good enough for us. What we're really focusing on is roads that have been paved in the past five to eight years. We'll crack seal roads this year and crack seal that same road next year. We want to get as much life out of these roads as we can."
The freeze-thaw cycle in winter is deadly for road surfaces, especially in cities like Calgary, which is prone to Chinook winds that prompt rapid temperature fluctuations. Water that gets into cracks expands as it freezes and that displaces crack filling material. For its crack sealing, Calgary uses a combination of asphalt, cement and rubberized modifiers that leaves a hard seal once it cools. Like Prince George, those seals get displaced over winter.
"Typically in spring you see heaving as the frost pushes its way up and I've seen those snakes lying on the road -- I think it's a fairly common thing," said Sean Somers, a spokesman for the City of Calgary's transportation department. "I think we're all dealing with the same problem."
This past spring thaw revealed some of the worst road conditions Prince George has ever had and the problem was widespread on most major arteries that hadn't been recently repaved. That prompted city council to dip into a $1.9 million reserve fund to supplement the $3.5 million paving budget.
Roads that don't carry high-traffic volumes will be microsurfaced with a thin layer of pavement that doesn't require excavating. Microsurfacing adds no structural strength to the road, it simply adds a layer of protection to keep cracks from forming. A city experiment with microsurfacing on Ospika Boulevard between 15th Avenue and 18th Avenue in 2004 failed miserably when traffic broke down the surface within a year. Jones said that won't happen on less-traveled microsurfaced roads.
"We'll be doing more microsurfacing next year, but ideally we'd like to crack seal those roads this year because the microsurfacing doesn't bond to weeds growing up in the roads," Jones said.
This year's budget for microsurfacing was $150,000, while $80,000 will be spent on crack sealing.
Paving crews have completed all but three road projects on the city's hit list: Tabor Boulevard from First Avenue to Fifth Avenue; Ospika Boulevard from Davis Road to Tyner Boulevard; and Foothills Boulevard from Nechako Road to the Foothills Bridge.
That work will begin when the milling machine used to dig out existing pavement returns to the city in mid-August.