Some ranting and raving about the Island’s recent road paving

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know much about paving. This may be because I’m from New York City where no new paving has been done since just after the Revolutionary War. Or because my immigrant ancestors arrived in New York expecting the streets to be “paved with gold,” and were sorely disappointed because, at that time, the streets were mostly covered in horse manure. This is why men are trained to this day to walk close to the curb: to protect their ladies’ skirts from being besplattered. This is a silly rule to obey here on Vashon, not just because, while rural, there are very few horse-drawn carriages, but also because for the most part there are no curbs. Or sidewalks. Or even shoulders. And we like it that way.

So I was confused by the recent spate of paving on the Island covered, so to speak, by a recent article in this estimable newspaper. As usual when confused, the first thing I did was go to my dictionary. I looked up paving. Pave, it turns out is a “transitive verb” (no, I don’t know what a transitive verb is either) which means “to cover uniformly to form a firm level surface.”

Call me a stickler, but it seems to me the key words here are, “cover,” “firm,” and “level.” Is scattering pebbles “covering?” Is a loose pebble surface “firm?” And “level?” Level is what happens to you when you round a curve on these pebbles and your bike slides out from under you.

Certainly the new asphalt north along the highway from the center of town is firm and level in at least some places, and it did indeed cover the original asphalt underneath.

This latter point is important, because now the inspectors will never discover what we here on the Island all knew: that the original asphalt was in fine condition and didn’t need covering in the first place. And they can’t fool me because I know how they’re going to pay for all that new asphalt: People will drive faster and the county will collect zillions in new speeding tickets.

It’s been reported that the striped pedestrian crosswalks will be painted again, weather permitting. We’ve had an unbroken string of beautiful days, perfect for painting, all through the month of September. But maybe they’re waiting for the body count to get higher.

Of course most of the “resurfacing” work done on the Island — and let’s note that the county does not use the word “paving”— used something called “chip seal.” How this material got its name is readily comprehended: Let’s say you’re driving up that long hill next to the golf course on Maury Island, heading for Gold Beach, and one of those humongous Glacier trucks is barreling downhill in the opposite direction. The truck’s tires lift the loose pebbles, flinging them at your oncoming vehicle, and — crack! — you have a chip in your windshield that you have to get sealed at one of those windshield repair places. Thus, “chip seal.”

I learned a lot about chip sealing when crews “resurfaced” the road I live on. Chip seal is cheap. As a consequence, it lasts only three to seven years. Does that seem awfully vague to you? Kinda iffy? That’s like your doctor telling you your hip replacement will last seven years if you stay in bed, three if you dare to walk.

My road is a dead end. All but two of the houses on it are occupied only two months of the year. Given this level of disuse, I guess we should expect the chip seal to last seven years. But I’m not betting on that, and here’s why: There is already grass growing right through the brand-new resurfacing of a road that was just fine before they started messing with it.

Which brings me just around the corner to Burton Drive. That’s the road that stretches two long blocks from the center of Burton to the loop road around the Burton Peninsula. Talk about a road that was just fine without messing with it: a simple, two-lane road with a 25 mile per hour speed limit. Classic Vashon. But the county apparently decided this simple country road, beloved by walkers, needed a shoulder. No one knows why.

First the no parking signs appeared, which everyone ignored. A couple of months later a gravel shoulder got built. More time went by and finally the paving crew arrived with a shiny new shoulder-paving machine. It was a little troubling to see half a dozen guys huddled around the user’s manual, trying to figure out how the machine worked.

The new asphalt shoulder appears to have been build to honor the Island’s maritime spirit: The surface was as wavy as Outer Quartermaster Harbor on a bad day. A week later, they tore out a big section and did it all over again. I don’t know, maybe the waves weren’t just right.

It will be interesting to see how things turn out when the rain begins: In the process of building the shoulder they also filled parts of the drainage ditch and blocked some of the culverts.

But here’s the great thing: Everybody still walks down the middle of the road!

Like I said, I don’t know anything about paving. Or “resurfacing,” for that matter. But lately I’m wondering if the county does, either.

Oh, and one more thing: Am I the only person on the Island who finds it hilarious that one of the companies involved is called Doolittle Construction?

— Will North is a Vashon novelist. His next novel is set on the Island.

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