City News

Salem will spend millions fixing roads this summer. Here’s how it works.

Recently tamped down asphalt baked in the sun, and dust from heavy machineries over gravel cast a haze in the air.

In just a few hours on June 22, South Croisan Scenic Way, near Schirle Elementary School, had gone from rough to shiny and smooth. A few hours more, and traffic would be able to drive over the cooled surface.

Crews will repair Salem’s streets all summer long, fixing the wear and tear of constant use and icy weather.

In the city’s budget for the next year, $12.3 million is allocated for the paving, painting, sweeping and other tasks needed to maintain city streets. Of that, $3.1 million is for maintaining the surface of the roads, with a team of 10 employees dedicated to the task. 

Over the past year, the city of Salem had 270 pothole repair requests submitted to the Public Works department. All of those requests have been completed, usually the following business day, said department spokesman Trevor Smith. 

Earlier this month, Salem Reporter asked newsletter subscribers for their thoughts on the city’s road maintenance, and the process of getting repairs fixed. Many responses were positive, with readers reporting repairs happening within days of a request.

Several had concerns about the temporary nature of some fixes, and questions about how the process roadwork has changed over the years.

Requesting a repair

If you find yourself hitting bumps on your street, there’s options to submit reports online and over the phone to the Public Works Dispatch line.

“Residents should inform us of any issue they see on our streets. Identifying issues early can help our street maintenance division identify small less costly repairs before major work is needed,” Smith said in an email to Salem Reporter.

To submit a request for a damaged road or sidewalk, dispatch will ask for the following information:

-Location, including the address or hundred block and street name and the nearest cross street.

-A description of the extent of the damage to the road.

-A photo of the issue.

-Any additional relevant information.

-Your name, phone number and email address.

Email requests to [email protected], or call 503-588-6311.

A construction crew spreads fresh asphalt on a road near Schirle Elementary School in South Salem in June 2023 (Abbey McDonald/ Salem Reporter)

How repairs work

Once a request is submitted, what happens next depends on a matrix of criteria to determine the haste and type of fix. The biggest factor is safety, Smith said.

Other factors include planning the impact of street closure, like how busy the street is or if it’s near a school that won’t be used as much over the summer.

For street repairs, the first step the city takes is to look at the Pavement Condition Index which ranks the road’s overall condition on a scale from 0-100, the highest rank being a new road. Staff will look to prioritize projects on roads with lower rankings.

The section of Croisan Scenic Way, for example had a pavement score of 36 due to reoccurring issues.

“Some of the issues examined by staff include the overall use of the roadway, ADA infrastructure improvements, utility needs along the roadway, and future approved and funded construction projects that may be a conflict,” Smith said in an email to Salem Reporter.

Many street repairs will also require updates to utilities, and the adjacent curb ramps and pavements to be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. That means meeting requirements for width and the angle of the slope on corners.

Requests are plugged into a planning spreadsheet, which also prioritizes older roads that have seen fewer repairs over time.

Lower cost projects often get bumped up the list as money becomes available, Smith said, with bigger renovations needing more planning.

For repairs happening this summer, there’s a good chance that Adam Crofoot, the streets and asphalt supervisor for public works, will be there.

The morning of June 22, Crofoot watched as a crew of around a dozen smoothed the asphalt – a mixture of gravel and oil – and used a machine to flatten it, one tamping and another ride-on roller. 

“Pretty much all it is is rock and oil. And asphalt oil that’s heated up to 3, 400 degrees. That’s what makes it moveable while it’s hot and then as it cools off it binds like glue,” Crofoot said.

About 20% of the mixture is made from recycled material, like ground up shingles, which has become more common. He said the new material is tougher to work with, but the switch made sense because construction projects leave mountains of leftover recyclable material.

The repaving near Schirle Elementary was more comprehensive, and included replacing the sidewalk corners with ADA-compliant ramps.

For quick fixes, like a pothole getting filled, city crews will fill and compact it with a type of cold asphalt that comes in a bag.

“It’s not really a long term fix, but it gets us by until we can get the manpower up to get hot asphalt, then we could potentially go back out, dig it out a little bit and patch it with hot asphalt for a permanent fix,” he said.

In the summertime, most of the manpower is directed at repaving and larger projects that require bigger crews. Potholes are given temporary fixes.

“It’s an uphill battle,” he said. “The wintertime really hammers us, and then summertime, when it gets hot out, these sinkholes appear out of nowhere.”

Frequently, they’re caused by patches of road that was cold all summer falling apart when it heats up. Other times, underground storm and utility systems can break and weaken the road, issues that go beyond one-day fixes.

Adam Crofoot, the streets and asphalt supervisor for the City of Salem’s Public Works Department, smooths new asphalt on a road near Schirle Elementary School in South Salem in June 2023 (Abbey McDonald/ Salem Reporter)

Upcoming road repairs

Crofoot said that most of the roads with major issues, the “worst of the worst,” will be addressed by the infrastructure bond in the next five to seven years. 

Those include Commercial Street and Silverton Road, which both see a lot of traffic.

“Those are going to be multi-million dollar projects, a complete overhaul. Right now we’ll just pull Band-Aids on them and that’s the best approach to save people’s money,” he said.

This summer, there are planned repairs throughout Salem. The city has a map of ongoing construction on its website.

There are over 50 active projects on the city map as of June 26.

Crews are working on biking improvements on Northeast Union Street, which will add protections for cyclists and connections from Riverfront and Marion Square parks to the North Capitol Mall.

Another project is underway on Northeast Broadway Street, from Northeast Pine Street to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. The work will turn the four-lane street into a three lane street with a center turn lane, and add ADA curb updates, updated traffic signals and new trees. Construction started June 19, and is expected to last six months.

Northwest 2nd Street will be under construction through November, with plans to add new curbs, sidewalks, lighting and sewer and water upgrades. Work in the next year is estimated to cost $1.5 million this year, bringing the project to a total of $8.9 million combined.

A $35.5 million total project, which is planned to see $5.3 million in the next year, will improve bike lanes, curbs, sidewalks and drainage on Southeast McGilchrist Street. This summer, crews will realign the intersection at Southeast 22nd Street and replace the crossing over Pringle Creek.

Improvements on Southeast Commercial Street, from Southeast Fabry Road to the Interstate 5 ramp, are underway this summer, for a $3 million project that will repave the road and replace curb ramps to comply with ADA requirements.

Crews are also working to widen the Depot Court and Aumsville Highway intersection.

Slurry seal treatments are coming to areas throughout Salem, which adds a protective surface to the street to protect it from water damage. The city has a map of those projects online.

This summer, the following streets will see paving projects, according to public works spokesman Trevor Smith.

Southeast Baxter Road, from Southeast Commercial St to Southeast Mac Street.

Southeast Airport Road, from Militia Road to Southeast State Street.

Southeast Cordon Road, from Southeast Macleay Road to Southeast Caplinger Road.

Southeast Turner Road from Southeast 34th Court to Southeast Paradise Island.

Northeast Center Street, from Dave’s Spicy Chicken to Northeast 36th Avenue. 

North River Road, from Northeast Delmar Drive to Northeast Broadway Street.

Northeast Front Street, from Northeast Norway Street to Northeast South Street. 

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.