Aug 07, 2023

‘Oil and chip’ resurfacing of Pa. Route 437 raises concerns

By Bill O’Boyle [email protected]

Signs warn motorists of work being done on Route 437 between Mountain Top and White Haven that is being resurfaced with a seal coating called ‘oil and chips.’ Reports of cracked windshields, oil pan damage and ‘dings’ to vehicles caused have topped the list of concerns over PennDOT’s decision to use this coating process.

Bill O’Boyle | Times Leader

Route 437 between Mountain Top and White Haven is being resurfaced with a seal coating called ‘oil and chips.’ Several motorists say their vehicles have been damaged, with cracked windshields and ‘dings’ resulting from the loose stones.

Kerry Miscavage | Times Leader


PennDOT’s use of “oil and chip” resurfacing on busy roads in the Mountain Top area has motorists and a state legislator raising concerns about the safety of the process.

The agency maintains it is a sound and effective procedure.

But reports of cracked windshields, oil pan damage and “dings” to vehicles caused by “things flying everywhere” have topped the list of concerns over PennDOT’s decision to use that method to resurface state Route 437, which connects the Mountain Top area with White Haven, as well as Nuangola Road.

State Rep. Alec Ryncavage said his office has been responding to calls and emails, and he has taken those concerns to the Department of Transportation.

“We’ve indeed seen a record number of complaints, coming from both affected residents and concerned citizens who regularly use these roads,” said Ryncavage, R-Plymouth. “I am working with PennDOT officials to seek answers, but more importantly to pause all future maintenance and use of tar and chip on Nuangola Road while we investigate what happened on SR 437.”

“I have received so many complaints regarding tar and chip usage that it will be a focus of mine when session returns in Harrisburg this fall,” he said.

PennDOT: Extending road life

Jessica Ruddy, PennDOT’s District 4 Community Relations Coordinator, said the agency uses the “oil and chip” process because it is a highly cost-effective treatment.

“Seal coating, or more commonly referred to as ‘oil and chip,’ is essential in preserving the life of a road surface because it seals the road surface to keep water out and restores friction of the surface to enhance traction,” Ruddy stated in an email. “This maintenance operation is used to extend the life of roads for several years.”

Per a PennDOT publication on the subject: “This application can be utilized on routes where the average daily traffic (ADT) is 20,000 and below.”

The ADT on Route 437 is approximately 4,400.

Asked if this method has a record of causing damage to vehicles, Ruddy replied: “The seal coating process does not cause damage to vehicles if vehicles are traveling at the posted speed limit and in a safe manner.”

Ruddy said PennDOT has utilized seal coating in many areas throughout the state, including Route 29 and Coxton Road in Luzerne County.

Ryncavage: Complaints reveal issues

Ryncavage said while tar and chip resurfacing is intended as a cost-effective method, the recent surge in complaints has brought to light several significant issues.

And, the lawmaker said in an email to the Times Leader, he understands that PennDOT has temporarily paused the work while dealing with the loose stone.

“Based on the feedback we’ve received, it’s clear that this method can be detrimental to vehicles, causing noise disturbances, and potentially making roads more dangerous for all users, especially motorcyclists,” Ryncavage said. “Following a thorough assessment, PennDOT has drawn important conclusions regarding the challenges encountered on Route 437. It has been determined that the issues, such as the loss of stone on the road, may be attributed to a combination of factors. PennDOT received material from their vendor that did not meet expected quality standards, compounded by the presence of tree debris and instances of excessive speeding on the road.”

Ryncavage added that PennDOT has clarified that the road has not yet received its final seal coat, known as the “fog seal.” This seal, which acts as the binding agent and imparts the dark appearance similar to asphalt, is typically applied seven days after the completion of the initial resurfacing project.

“PennDOT has informed me all road maintenance activities on SR 437 have been temporarily paused,” Ryncavage said Wednesday. “To address the issue of loose stone, PennDOT has introduced a regimen of regular clean-up using groomers. This measure aims to improve the immediate safety and comfort of motorists using the road.”

Ruddy advised motorists to be aware the road remains an active work area and drive accordingly.

“State Route 437 is an active seal coating project,” Ruddy said. “PennDOT asks motorists to be patient, drive the posted speed limit, and take their time while traveling through the active work zone.”

Lawmaker seeks long-term solutions

Looking forward, Ryncavage said PennDOT has outlined a detailed plan to rectify the situation comprehensively. Following the Labor Day weekend, Ryncavage said work on SR 437 will resume. PennDOT is taking proactive steps by engaging a new vendor to supply improved materials for the resurfacing project. Furthermore, the project will culminate with the application of the final seal coat, or “fog seal,” to ensure the road’s longevity and appearance.

“While PennDOT’s actions will address the short-term problem, I have made it a legislative priority to investigate the overall use of tar and chip across the Commonwealth,” Ryncavage said. “As we move forward, I want to emphasize that during the upcoming fall legislative session, I’m committed to addressing the concerns surrounding tar and chip resurfacing head-on. I’m collaborating with the non-partisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a comprehensive study on the cost-effectiveness of this method of road repair,” he said.

“Additionally, I’m partnering with the Penn State Materials Lab to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the materials used in the tar and chip practice,” Ryncavage added.

Motorists speak out

The complaints and concerns and criticisms have lit up the community in recent days, including from members of our own team who use the road and have been affected.

Kerry Miscavage, a resident of White Haven who travels Route 437 daily, said the situation “is unfortunate.”

“When my husband told me about the chip and tar, I was open-minded about it,” Miscavage said. “Traveling on it, for the past week, however, has proven to be difficult and seemingly hazardous to a lot of vehicles. My husband’s windshield was hit the first day. My car and tires are a dirty mess and we have no choice but to use that road. Route 437 is not a ‘back road’ by any means.”

This is a selection of recent Facebook posts from the White Haven Community Facebook page:

Julie Manorek: “My window is cracked because of this! The rocks are flying everywhere and hitting my car. I hate it!

Gretchen Sterner Yohey: “We had a smashed windshield I had to call PennDOT.”

Bryan Dion: “God bless anyone on a motorcycle that decides to take that road. It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Russel Taylor: “Rock tore up my oil pan.”

Heidi Stephens: “My daughter had her windshield broke on that road this morning coming home from work. It is absolutely horrible.”

Charles Prinzivalli: “They did my road and it was good after a full 24 hrs.”

Tara Ashman: “A rock already flew up from a car in front of me and cracked my window.”

Lynn Randis Bostic: “When they did ours, they packed it down well with a roller. It doesn’t seem like they did that in this pic. Compacting with the roller stopped much of the chips from being thrown by the vehicles. Roughly 2 weeks later, they then came and swept up the excess gravel. It should have been done here.”

How to file claims

PennDOT’s Ruddy said if a motorist has experienced damage to a vehicle or property and would like to submit a claim to the Commonwealth, they should use the following link:

The Commonwealth’s Bureau of Finance and Risk Management (FARM) within the Department of General Services is responsible for determining if a claim should be paid. FARM is not associated with PennDOT.

Ryncavage also encouraged anyone with damage to contact his office.

“If anyone has damage as a result of the tar and chip, please reach out to my Fairview Township office at 570-902-4082,” Ryncavage said. “I am in the process of collecting contact information of those affected and working with PennDOT to see what can be done to help those negatively impacted. We do something similar when the line paint gets on vehicles.”

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

PennDOT: Extending road lifeRyncavage: Complaints reveal issuesLawmaker seeks long-term solutionsMotorists speak outJulie Manorek:Gretchen Sterner Yohey:Bryan Dion:Russel Taylor:Heidi Stephens:Charles Prinzivalli:Tara Ashman:Lynn Randis Bostic:How to file claims