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I suppose that wherever you may be reading this, you do have road conditions.

How are they, generally?

You might not realize it, to hear the way some people complain, but the condition of our roads locally has been consistently improving over the five years that we’ve been coming to Las Galeras.

This isn’t to say that on any given day, you might not take an unexpected detour through Quinengo’s front yard or be diverted across the beach by a herd of cattle or a bit of construction. But, consistently, the roads are improving here, which is more than I can say for many cities in which I have lived in the United States, where road conditions are often more devolutionary than not.

Pittsburgh, for example, is perpetually bracing for the annual spring thaw and the consequent crumbling of Davey Lawrence’s infamous asphalt base that underpins any road in the county more than 45 years old, and that includes most of them. Also, the heart of Seattle will always be constricted between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, Miami will always have way too many vehicles for the available pavement, and Washington, DC has some version of all three problems. I could go on, but why get you started?

Across the North America and in northern Europe where most of you are living, the road construction season has come to an end for the year. Here in Las Galeras, we’re in full swing and enjoying the benefit of a kind of Dominican stimulus package of the sort that turned your summer highway travel into one extended work zone in the United States.

Perhaps you recall my mention of the aqueduct now being built along the North East coast of the RD? It’s a huge infrastructure project including the construction of dams, water treatment plants and storage facilities and, most notably, the laying of water pipes.

Probably, in your neighborhood, when they dig up the street to service utilities it is returned worse for the experience. Here the opposite is true. In fact, the smoothest track between Las Galeras and Samana is along the inland-side of the road, on the paved patch covering the water main buried under the road over the last couple of years.

This year Odebrecht, the Brazilian contractor for this part of the project, has begun to plant a smaller secondary water line along the other side of the same road. This pipe is not quite as deep as the main and is the one that will in theory someday connect homes and businesses to freely flowing potable water.

If our experience is consistent, this second water line will also have the more immediate and tangible result of nearly repaving the entire width of the road, leaving only the unrestored middle for some future stimulus project.

A few years ago I posted a road condition photo from our little barrio on the El Otro WA website. The picture was of a single and somewhat pathetic rectangle of concrete arbitrarily placed along two rough tracks that are the road to our house. This chunk of cement has since been replaced by two sturdy concrete tracks that have withstood two rainy seasons. If you’d like, I’ll put up a photo of those concrete tracks. This may also answer, in part, what it is that some of you wonder that we do with our time here. “I’m a Ceement mixer, putti putti.”

Perhaps I’ll also post a picture of the vicious powerful Odebrecht machine that will obliterate one of those concrete tracks within the next few days.

Incredibly, and seemingly in a spurt of holiday fervor, the Odebrecht Company and the trailing aqueduct have finally arrived in Las Galeras. With an excess of holiday generosity, the stimulus package has also delivered a second, slightly smaller but still monstrous tracked trenching machine directly to our little neighborhood where it is quickly planting a water pipe that no one I know wants or needs. Perhaps the future will reveal another surprise. Vamos a ver.

Anyway, for more than a year now I have been impressed with the evenness and durability of the asphalt patch over the trench running between here and Samana. In the face of the Caribbean sun, and subjected to some seriously overloaded trucks this patch has generally not succumbed. It does not sag and it has mostly not crumbled and yesterday I think I discovered why. It’s all in the backfill and the compacting thereof which–come to think of it, only stands to reason. But here, in this little village at the end of the road on the North East coast of the Dominican Republic, on the even smaller and completely unpaved thoroughfares in our sparsely populated neighborhood, I saw something that I’ve never noticed on any road repair project in the United States: a team actually MEASURING the degree to which the backfill in place was compacted before layering an additional measure of dirt into the open trench.

I’ll be surprised if any of you have ever seen a utility company in the developed world take such a measure before topping their cut with asphalt. And I guess that may go some way towards explaining the sagging and crumbling utility patches that are an arterial feature of so many cities in the US and elsewhere.

Now we, too, have got pipe in the neighborhood, if not yet up the road near our house.

Our roads are still unpaved, even though well-compacted and we sometimes take little diversions through the pasture or across the front lawn of Sr. Quinengo. But our roads are consistently improving.

Perhaps, given the appropriate stimulus package, one day you will say the same.


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2 Comments on Road Conditions

  1. bkg says:

    Hey Bill — so HOW do they measure the degree of compaction? I’m having trouble visualizing this….


  2. Bill says:

    Hi Benjamin,

    There were a couple of guys crouched in the trench and a third peering down at them (see my earlier post about the Dominican team approach to auto repair for details.) One of the guys in the ditch had a long probe with a “tee” handle that he was wiggling and working and forcing into the partially filled ditch. There was a box with wires attached, and a second one with dials. I’m guessing that the equipment sensed the resistance encountered by the probe and/or somehow measured the force necessary to probe to a preordained depth.

    But maybe not.


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