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Judy Spooner Viewpoint: Road observations from a 'sidewalk engineer'

Through the years, I've written about a lot of street reconstruction, but during the last month, I had my first experience of watching it day by day.

Maybe I'm just easily entertained, but I found it fascinating.

Construction workers, who see the same people watching every day while they work, call the watchers "sidewalk engineers."

Nearly every day, I walk on the trails beside Hinton Avenue so I was one of them who watched the reconstruction from 80th to 70th streets.

Workers started by removing the asphalt trails from both sides of the street, which exposed a gravel and stone base that was hard to walk on. I admit that I walked on some of it to get to my personal detour even though the trails were officially closed. I don't know what the charge would have been if I had been stopped by police but I was prepared to plead for leniency if I had to.

The cement guys came in next and that's when streets were blocked off, making everyone who travels on Hinton crazy because they had to detour.

The adjacent streets have cement aprons to Hinton and some of the asphalt paving has to be removed so that can happen.

The trails, slightly wider than the original ones, went in next so those of us who use them could watch the rest of the reconstruction. Nice how that worked out.

Ignorant people say bad things about construction being easy work but they are mistaken. They work hard.

There's no quitting at a certain time. The crew putting in concrete ramps to trails had to complete the whole street in one day. They were still working at 6 p.m.

I talked to one of the engineers and he enlightened me about recycled asphalt. A certain percentage of the bottom two layers of asphalt comes from street surfaces that have been peeled off and trucked away. Cottage Grove doesn't use that, however.

Used asphalt, even after crushing, is too dry by itself and might crack if used on the top layer, so what you see on the surface is new stuff, as are the new trails.

After the concrete and trails are done, a huge machine takes up about six to eight inches of the street. It has cutters that scrape it up, crush it and shoot it into "belly dumper" trucks off a conveyer belt.

From 15 to 17 trucks haul it away and get back in line again.

There's a water truck that feeds water into the machine to cool the cutters and grinders.

Trucks stop just in front of the conveyer and the operator moves the conveyer to line it up. When the operator beeps a horn, the driver pulls forward slightly to even the load and then goes in reverse. Two beeps means the truck should pull out.

I asked what the big cutting machine does when it gets to corners. It doesn't, the engineer said. There's a smaller cutter for that work.

It's been fun to watch and now I know why streets are so expensive.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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