Overland Park okays $3.1 million for much-debated chip-seal road resurfacing method

Overland Park chip seal

The Overland Park public works committee Wednesday approved spending $3.1 million on chip-seal work despite several councilmembers' concerns — including from councilmember Paul Lyons who said the micro-seal method had been a “disaster." File photo. 

The asphalt and crushed rock road surface known as chip-seal re-emerged as an issue in Overland Park Wednesday night, as two city councilmembers balked at approving any more spending on the resurfacing method.

Councilmembers on the public works committee gave majority approval to bids for this year’s chip-seal work totaling $3.1 million as well as a five-year capital improvement plan that could include more of the resurfacing work.

Chip-seal involves coating the road surface with a sticky asphalt emulsion and then rolling in a layer of finely crushed rock. It is a road maintenance method that has long been the source of resident complaints in Overland Park, particularly about loose rock and tarry debris that can be picked up while driving on it.

The complaints reached such a level in 2005 that the city moved to a different resurfacing method, only to return to chip-seal about ten years later.

Councilmember Paul Lyons commented at Wednesday’s meeting that that other method, known as micro seal, had been a “disaster” and had proven inferior to chip seal while costing more.

Councilmembers cite residents’ complaints

But chip-seal remains controversial enough that it could become a campaign issue in some Overland Park municipal races this year.

Both candidates who have so far declared their intentions to replace Mayor Carl Gerlach, Faris Farassati and Curt Skoog, are on the public works committee. Another city council candidate, Sheila Rodriguez, has said opposition to chip-seal is a big reason she decided to challenge Ward 5 Councilmember John Thompson, as well.

Farassati and Councilmember Scott Hamblin challenged the capital improvement plan and the chip-seal bids. Farassati cited residents’ complaints about it, referencing a presentation made by Rodriguez during a recent virtual open house. In that presentation, Rodriguez said neighbors’ children had been badly hurt from falling on it, and sticky loose rocks get lodged in car parts and can damage windows.

Farassati and Hamblin asked the committee to consider using one-inch overlay as Leawood does.

“We believe the time has arrived for looking into chip-seal technology and replacing it with something the people of Overland Park deserve,” he said.

Hamblin said the city should have a bigger discussion about its priorities on roads “and explain to our residents why we won’t do anything about what they have disliked and been blatantly clear about for the last fifteen years.”

Concerns of other road treatments’ cost

Other councilmembers acknowledged that chip-seal has been a perennial issue. Councilmember Fred Spears, who is not on the public works committee, said complaints about chip sealing run high, but he said replacing it with some other process would cost an estimated $20 million more each year.

“I would love to get rid of it, I think that would be great. I just don’t know where we can whistle up another $20 million or so to accomplish that,” Spears said.

One idea — cutting tax incentives to developers, another likely campaign issues in Overland Park this year — would not solve the problem, he said, because incentives are expected to be paid back.

Skoog said councilmembers who are uncomfortable with chip-seal should work an alternative into the budget in coming months for next year.

“We have talked a lot about chip-seal during my time on the council,” he said, and alternatives will continue to be explored.

But chip-seal is doing a good job of keeping streets in shape, he said.

“I just want you to drive Overland Park streets in the next month as we go through pothole season and drive streets in Kansas City, Mo., and other Kansas cities and see how we stack up, he said.

The six-member committee approved the capital budget and chip-seal bids, each on a 4-2 vote, with Farassati and Hamblin voting against and Councilmembers Stacie Gram, Logan Heley, Jim Kite and Skoog in favor.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Councilmember Lyons called chip-sealing a “disaster.” Lyons supports chip-sealing and has been critical of another road resurfacing method, micro-sealing, which the city discontinued use of in 2012.