The Asphalt Jungle Changes Meaning in the Suburbs

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Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

When you hear the term The Asphalt Jungle, the title of a 1950 film noir based on the novel of the same name by W. R. Burnett, you probably think of underworld activities in the city, but in the suburbs, the words could very well describe the constant battle of maintaining our town roads.

And the surprisingly bad condition of many of our roads today affects the perception of our towns and neighborhoods, as well as the perceived value of our homes.

When I owned a single-family home, it was the first home as one entered my street.  And I was keenly aware at one point that it had not been paved in at least 25 years while I was living there. I became very sensitive to this issue when one buyer prospect asked, “Why does your street look so bad?”

However, I remember well when one morning I woke to the sound of equipment operating in the street below my window, and I thought, oh, no, what the heck is happening now? But I rejoiced when, ‘lo and behold, I spied through the trees along the street an enormous truck filled with steaming asphalt, a smell that I happen to like, almost comparable to the slight high I get when using rubber cement.

I quickly got dressed and ran down to the street to personally welcome the crew and the highway department head at that time who was there to personally supervise the job.

Why was it such a long time between pavings? I asked him.  He replied that because of tightened budgets, roads which had been on a 10-year cycle for re-paving had been extended to a 20-year cycle.”  I guess somehow my street got lost in the shuffle because I could personally testify to the fact that its life far surpassed even the extended cycle.

When I was a child, I traveled with my older sister and my brother-in-law across country and at that time, the main interstate highway going across the southwestern states was Route 66 and this major road was all concrete rather than asphalt, but from the 60s onward, most roads are done in asphalt because of its ease of installation, and repair. However, the heaviest traveled roads are still concrete which is better in bearing the load of really heavy trucks.

You may know the story about how the concrete and automobile lobbies conspired to get the interstate highway system together in this country in the 1950s at the expense of public transportation. It’s a fascinating study.

When I moved to my town more than 40 years ago, the main road, then cared for by the county, was still concrete, installed in sections with cracks in between that produced a large, consistent sound as you rode over them. Soon after our arrival, it too was covered with smooth asphalt that looked and rode much better.

You may wonder about the composition of an asphalt mix. Actually liquid asphalt is the heavy black material that is left from crude oil after the other products like gasoline and motor oil are refined from it.  Paving asphalt is composed of six percent liquid asphalt, mixed with sand and stone.

The materials are heated to about 300 degrees while mixed, dumped into a very long “slow boy” truck which then delivers the paving material to the site. The advantage of the large “slow boy” is that it features a conveyor which pushes the mix out on to the road without having to be lifted and dumped.”

After the asphalt is spread evenly along the road, a roller which operates with water cascading over its surface, flattens and compresses the mix, with the water keeping it from sticking to the drum.

Because of that procedure, my street was transformed from the ugliest to the nicest looking in town. The downside was that it made my abutting landscaping look a little overgrown, so I had to catch up with the Joneses and prune everything back so that it matched the sleeker look of the street.

There was always something to keep me busy outside, and this was a small price to pay to guard against the possibility of my stumbling into a pothole in front of my house.


Bill Primavera, while a publicist and journalist, is also a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. ( To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914)522-2076.



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