Cape Girardeau Street Smarts: Current Issues with Cape’s Roads

Cape Girardeau has more than 230 miles of road and 22 miles of alleyways within city limits. Behind the scenes, City of Cape Girardeau staff spend tons of time and millions of dollars evaluating, maintaining and repairing roadways.

In 2015, most of Cape Girardeau's roads were ranked good, satisfactory, or fair.
In 2015, most of Cape Girardeau’s roads were ranked good, satisfactory, or fair.

Currently, about 80 percent of Cape Girardeau’s roads are ranked good, satisfactory, or fair by MicroPaver, the City’s evaluation software used to analyze road conditions. Every year, an inspector goes around half of the city and, using national standards developed by U.S. military agencies over many years, determine the condition rating of a road. Using complex algorithms, MicroPaver rates roads on a scale from 0 to 100, with 100 considered the highest rating.

So, with that many miles of roads to maintain, how does the City determine the order of street repair projects?

“A lot goes into [road selection],” said Andrew Stone, Traffic Operations Manager with City of Cape Girardeau Public Works. “We try to consider ‘does this road get much travel,’ and ‘how many folks does this affect,’ or ‘what’s the most beneficial; how can we make our dollars go the furthest.’ That’s the name of the game. It may be just 20 feet that’s horrible that’s dragging down that road condition rating; if we can fix that 20 ft or link it into another project, that road condition rating in MicroPaver may go up.”

Stone explains that while MicroPaver helps determine the rating of a road, it does not determine its place on the list of roads to repair.

“We usually use those rankings in our Transportation Trust Fund planning to decide where we need to spend our attention, along with a lot of other factors previously mentioned,” said Stone.

Roads in Cape Girardeau are being repaired by funding provided by the Transportation Trust Fund, the sales 0.5 percent sales tax that voters have approved every five years since 1995 for road repair and projects.

How did Cape Girardeau find itself needing extensive road repairs?

Cape Girardeau’s roads are affected by many factors, including weather. We’re no stranger to tough outdoor conditions, whether it be extreme cold in the winter, high heat in the summer or heavy storms year-round. Temperature adversely impacts concrete, causing it to expand when hot and contract when cold. Constant expansion and contraction can make concrete buckle and crumble at its joints.

“Concrete blowups happen a lot during the summer time; that’s where it’ll buckle or sometimes it’ll start crumbling at the joint because they’re pushing together,” said Stone. “Usually that’s where a lot of our resources are spent, fixing the buckles and other areas that are falling apart.”

Precipitation can cause road issues. Too much precipitation can undermine roads, as water can seep into the concrete’s base, stripping it away and creating voids under the pavement. Voids under concrete can cause the road surface to fail. The water can cause the base to becomes soft and that also contributes to pavement defects. Moisture under concrete can also cause freezing and thawing issues, which aid in the expansion and contraction impacts previously mentioned.

Traffic flow can also contribute to road conditions. The traffic volume can impact how much damage is done to the street, but the type of traffic can impact it as well.

Jake Garrard, Civil Engineer with the City of Cape Girardeau Development Services Department, says that any vehicle larger than a typical passenger vehicle can cause damage to the roadways.

“Large trucks like semis, or dump trucks, or anything bigger than a passenger vehicle, can cause problems,” said Garrard. “They weigh a lot more and can cause more stress to the roadway.”

High-traffic routes like Lexington Avenue and Sprigg Street, Garrard added, tend to wear out faster due to the amount and types of daily traffic.

Another problem that our roads face is a lack of aggregate base. Before pavement is placed, roads are leveled to a desired elevation by either filling an area with dirt or cutting away existing dirt. Soil is then compacted and covered with base layers of rock or gravel. This is topped by either asphalt or concrete. Without an aggregate base layer, precipitation can leak into roadways via cracks or deteriorated joints and cause the soil underneath to wash away. If the base is not laid correctly, meaning it is not compacted properly or expand past the width of the proposed pavement, undermining issues may occur and affect the roadway.

Until 2010, the City of Cape Girardeau’s specifications did not require a base under new roads. Garrard said that a base layer may have been deemed unnecessary when the specifications were previously updated in 1960, but that no one currently in the Engineering Division knew why that decision was made, as it was more than 50 years ago.

Is age a factor in deteriorating Cape Girardeau streets?

Age is the one of the biggest issues facing Cape Girardeau roads. On average, roads in Cape Girardeau are approximately 35 years old.

“A lot of our roads are beginning to deteriorate due to age, due to the city expanding, different usages on the roads that weren’t there previously,” Stone said.

Stone added that the City has taken on the task of maintaining existing roads rather than building new ones.

“A lot of money needed to be–and a lot of thought needed to be–put into directing that money more towards maintenance instead of new things,” Stone said. “We need to maintain what we have rather than building new. So, we poured a lot of this last TTF-5 funding into maintenance. So that’s been a huge boost in helping keep our infrastructure repaired.”

Why choose concrete over asphalt for road work?

Approximately two-thirds of Cape Girardeau’s roads are built with concrete instead of asphalt. According to Garrard, the aesthetic appeal and the life of concrete are the reasons why the City has chosen concrete over asphalt for its roads.

“A lot of our citizens prefer the aesthetic of concrete to asphalt,” Garrard said. “When concrete is properly built, it can cost more to put down, but it has a longer life than asphalt. Asphalt also requires more maintenance.”

While asphalt is less expensive to work with, it is requires more maintenance. Asphalt is also affected by heat, which causes it to become more flexible than concrete. This causes issues like cracks and potholes. One of the main issues that can be found with asphalt streets are ruts near stop signs and stop lights. On warm days asphalt becomes flexible. When drivers use their brakes to stop, asphalt can move under their tires.

Garrard says that while ruts are not dangerous or harmful, they do require maintenance if they become deep enough. The ruts also hold water which can lead to potholes developing.

The City of Cape Girardeau values the drivability of its roads and has instituted many programs in order to repair deteriorated roads including the Annual Asphalt Overlay, Neighborhood Street Repair and concrete repairs by city crews. All of these programs are carried out by staff or contracted companies in accordance with City regulations and are completed under the management of the City’s Public Works or Development Services departments. For more information on street repairs, follow our Street Smarts blog series here.

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