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An experiment to smooth over LA's worst streets

Two deep potholes at the corner of First Street and Glendale Boulevard near downtown L.A.
Meghan McCarty KPCC
Two deep potholes at the corner of First Street and Glendale Boulevard near downtown L.A.

Los Angeles is trying out a new type of rubbery asphalt resurfacing that officials hope can smooth over some of the worst-off streets in the city until money is available for more thorough repairs.

For now, the experiment is limited to a single block in Northridge. Crews will use a heavy roller to apply the treatment - a special mix of rocks, oil, ground-up tires, flexible polymers and asphalt - onto Community Street between White Oak and Encino avenues. The work was scheduled for Monday, but was delayed due to rain.

The new formula is designed to extend the life of heavily-damaged streets by 10 years, according to its manufacturer, Carlsbad-based PMI.

The company, which is paying for the pilot project, has a plant in South Gate that supplies paving materials for minor resurfacing of streets that are in fair to good condition. City officials worked with PMI's pavement chemists to devise a treatment that could repair streets in worse shape, said Sarah Ballinger, the firm's marketing manager.

"It's a material that we recently created for the city of L.A., so it hasn't been used anywhere else," she said. If the material performs well through the winter, the company will try to persuade the city to use it more broadly.

The worst streets in Los Angeles cost so much to fix, the city can afford major repairs on only a few per year, consigning the rest to minor patch jobs. The city spends 80 percent of its street repair money on streets rated fair to good, and 20 percent on those in worse condition.

Community Street is an upscale residential road with broad front lawns and no sidewalks. The pavement is spider-webbed with cracks. On a scale of 1-100, it rates a lowly 15 on the city's index of pavement conditions, indicating the street is in very poor shape.

Keith Mozee, assistant director of the Bureau of Street Services, said he expects the treatment could save the city money, but since it's so new, the agency doesn't yet have an estimate of what it would cost to use the paving on a larger scale.
But in a city where one-third of the streets are in poor shape with no major rehab in sight, Street Services is hoping the new surfacing will pass its test.