“Recycling” Roads: Vermont Fills Potholes With Salvaged Asphalt

New tools break down old blacktop and convert it into hot asphalt used to patch roads

For its spring road repairs, the Vermont Agency of Transportation is using four $128,000 units it bought last year to reuse old pavement salvaged from work sites, operations director Scott Rogers said. The machines, spread throughout the transportation districts serving the state, transform old blacktop into fresh hot-mix asphalt that’s ready to use to patch roads and fill potholes after a rough winter.

"We weren’t able to utilize it to its potential," said Rejean Lafleche of VTrans, describing old pavement taken out of roads during construction season or jobs like culvert replacements. "Now, we’re able to take this product and make it useful."

Inside each bright cherry red unit, labeled "asphalt recycler," a drum super-heats hunks of old blacktop, breaking them down into renewed material. Lafleche said the hot mix is expected to be more effective for road patches than the cold mix option used in past years, because it gets inside crevices better.

The work comes at a time when some Vermont roads are looking like Swiss cheese, with many drivers feeling every bump the rough winter is leaving behind.

"The way the roads are, it’s tearing up my vehicles," driver John Green said.

"There are some big ones out there," another driver, Eddie King, said of potholes he’s seen in his travels. "All I can see is dollar signs because it’s going to knock my front end out of line and wear down my tires."

Lafleche pointed out to New England Cable News that the road patches being made now across Chittenden County, along with other districts where VTrans maintains roads, are not permanent fixes. They are more like bandages, he said, to help state roads weather the freezing and thawing still ahead of them.

"Obviously, we’ll do our best to try and take care of these potholes as they come up," Lafleche said. "We’re just getting into the beginning of the season; there’s more to come."

Prior to the purchase of the asphalt recycling units, chunks of blacktop saved from construction jobs would be sent to private paving contractors for them to reuse, including as new asphalt, Scott Rogers of VTrans told NECN.

Paving contractors are still going to be providing asphalt for Vermont jobs, because the asphalt recyclers can’t churn out enough to cover large projects, Rogers noted. But for small jobs, such as filling potholes, they will be a handy tool, Rogers said, especially because many private asphalt plants will not be fully open for the construction season for a few more weeks. 

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