As Heat Wave Hits, Some Kansas Roads Are Buckling

Law enforcement and transportation officials in Kansas had already reported heat buckles on roads before a National Weather Service excessive heat warning took effect on Wednesday.
by | July 19, 2019 AT 7:48 AM

By Jason Tidd

Wichita public works crews ask drivers to report heat buckling damage to roads as 100-plus degree temperatures moved into south-central Kansas.

Two Wichita roads have been damaged by heat buckles this week, public works officials said.

Around 5800 S. Broadway, which doubles as U.S. 81, a large crack stretched nearly curb to curb on Monday evening. Asphalt patches had been pushed up and chunks of pavement were strewn across the street. Wichita police blocked off the highway after the crack caused at least one flat tire.

Public Work and Utilities Director Alan King said the damage was caused by a heat buckle and that crews made a temporary repair to reopen the lanes by Tuesday morning.

A second heat buckle has since been reported in the northbound lane of Southwest Boulevard, north of Harry, and has been barricaded, said Penny Feist, the strategic services manager for Public Works and Utilities. Repair is scheduled for later this week or early next week.

Heat buckles typically look like an upheaval of the asphalt that forms a small peak in the road or sidewalk. They sometimes include crumbled asphalt. The cost to fix heat buckles depends on their size, which affects the amount of time and materials.

Law enforcement and transportation officials in Kansas had already reported heat buckles on roads before a National Weather Service excessive heat warning took effect on Wednesday.

The warning predicts dangerous temperatures of up to 105 degrees and heat index values of up to 110 degrees. The dew points will be in the upper 60s to mid-70s.

The temperature reached 100 degrees in Wichita for the first time this year on Wednesday, the weather service said. Triple digits were reached at around 2 p.m. at Eisenhower National Airport. The heat index at that time was 108 degrees.

A permanent fix for the crack on South Broadway was started on Wednesday morning, Feist said. Crews poured pavement on the inside lanes, and it must set before those lanes are opened to traffic and the outside lanes are repaired. The street is expected to be fully open to traffic on July 29.

Wichita's public works crews don't track the number of heat buckles, Feist said, but staff anecdotally estimated there were about 10 on city streets last year.

"It's possible that there will be more, given the extended heat that we've got the next couple of days and the temperature variability, but we really have no way of knowing how many," Feist said. "But we will respond to them as we are made aware of them."

She asked drivers to report heat buckles to public works online through Access.Wichita.gov.

"The buckling is essentially caused by concrete, which is more rigid than asphalt, expanding to the point it breaks open at a weak point during hot weather," said Tim Potter, a Kansas Department of Transportation spokesman. "Sometimes, the pressure can cause concrete to explode into the air. The problem also can occur when asphalt is laid over concrete. The dark asphalt absorbs heat and can add to the pressure."

Potter said KDOT maintenance staff will be monitoring roads, though they "don't expect buckling to necessarily be a major issue through the rest of the week." As of Wednesday afternoon, there had been scattered reports of heat buckling, or "blow-outs," that included an overnight closure last week of U.S. 75 south of Lyndon.

Hays police reported a heat buckle on Tuesday. A portion of the roadway at the intersections of 22nd and Canterbury had buckled, and a photo showed the damaged pavement raised several inches above normal.

(c)2019 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)