Overland Park task force will consider alternatives to controversial chip seal road resurfacing

Overland Park chip seal

Some residents complain Overland Park's method for road resurfacing is messy and dangerous for kids and bicyclists because it leaves behind sharp rocks. But city officials say alternative methods will cost more and could necessitate tax hikes. Photo credit Kyle Palmer.

Chip seal on Overland Park roads is going ahead for this year, but city councilmembers plan to take a hard look at whether they’ll continue the controversial resurfacing method in the future.

The city council voted Monday to move ahead with resurfacing projects for this year that were previously bid for chip seal, but a consensus also agreed to set up a task force to take a look at future infrastructure issues, with an eye to finding a viable chip seal alternative.

The task force would look at how the city could pay the increased cost of using another type of resurfacing, as well as poll residents on how they feel about possibly paying more in taxes for a different type of road surface.

Long-simmering complaints

Chip seal is a road maintenance method in which crews spread small crushed rock over a layer of asphalt, then roll it in. It’s been criticized as being messy and dangerous for kids and bicyclists who fall on it because of the sharpness of the rock. Residents have also complained of the sticky rocks lodging in car undercarriages, causing damage.

Six residents who signed up to speak at the virtual meeting Monday left few doubts about their feelings on chip seal.

“If cost was all we cared about we’d still be driving on dirt roads,” said David Tafreshi. “We’re not asking for better than the surrounding communities, we’re asking to be as good as the communities around us.”

Tafreshi and some other speakers said they felt their complaints about the resurfacing method have fallen on deaf ears for years.

“It is time for the chip seal era in Overland Park to come to an end. If elected officials can’t find a solution we will elect councilmembers who can. We will not stand for another 16 years of chip seal,” he said.

The city used chip seal for years before bowing to citizen complaints in 2005 and going to another method, called micro-seal, for about ten years. But that method also had critics and officials returned to chip seal.

A potential campaign issue

The spotlight returned to chip seal recently as a campaign issue in upcoming city elections.

Councilmember Faris Farassati, who is running for mayor, and Scott Hamblin held a virtual discussion group on it recently and urged fellow councilmembers to exclude chip seal from upcoming road improvements.

It’s also a campaign issue for Sheila Rodriguez, who recently filed to run for city council

Rodriquez was one of the speakers at Monday’s council meeting. She said the rock overlay on her street spoiled the sense of community, where neighbors and kids spent time outside.

“The dynamics of the neighborhood began to change and it hasn’t been the same since,” she said, noting the rocks make it too dangerous to play kickball in cul-de-sacs.

Another speaker, Don Pruitt, said cul-de-sacs are negatively affected because the turning vehicles churn up more loose rock.

Finding ‘a way forward’

Councilmembers also were not particularly enthused about the method. At a committee meeting earlier, several said they disliked the tar and rock and have been fielding complaints about it for years. The majority agreed with Mayor Carl Gerlach’s suggestion to set up a task force to look further into that matter.

Councilmember Jim Kite said the technology for chip seal has improved in the past couple of years.

“Long term, I hear what the public is saying. We will work with them and see if we can’t find a way forward,” he said. But he also warned that it may involve a tax increase to pay the estimated $20 million another resurfacing method would cost.

In the meantime, the council decided to go ahead with a five-year road maintenance plan but voted down Farassati’s proposal to ban chip seal from any future roadwork. Farassati and Hamblin were the only votes in favor of that proposal.

Councilmembers also approved about $3.1 million in chip seal bids for this year. Those bids were based on unanimous council votes last fall and members who voted for them said they did not want to abandon the roadwork without an alternative.