Saturday, August 19, 2023

Comparative Cost of Macadamizing (Explained) and Planking the Streets of Chicago.

Since the experiment of macadamizing [1] (aka McAdamize) the streets of our city has been instituted, a great deal of discussion has been had as to the comparative cost and cheapness of this kind of roadbed over the planking in such general use, and articles, pro and con, upon this subject, have found their way into the newspapers.

Some time ago, the City Council ordered Harrison Street to be macadamizing. A number of property holders on that street, whose property was assessed to pay for the improvement, petitioned the Council to have the street planked instead, for the reason, as they alleged, that the latter road bed is cheaper than the former and, the street not being a prominent thoroughfare, quite as useful. The petition was referred to Mr. N.S. Bonton, City Superintendent, with instructions to report to the Council the comparative cost of both planking and macadamizing. 
South Water Street, Chicago, in the 1860s

The cost comparison is between planking one mile of the street, with the necessary filling to raise the street to an equal height with fourteen inches of macadamizing.

The annexed estimates show the cost for planking twelve, sixteen and twenty-four feet wide, with three-inch oak plank; also, the cost of macadamizing one mile the same width.

May 12, 1857, Chicago Tribune:  Canal Street was ordered to be Macadamized from Van Buren Street to Old (18th) Street.

Chicago, August 22, 1857.
To plank one mile of street twenty-four feet wide with a three-inch oak plank, spiked with a wrought iron spike to seven, four by six inch, oak stringers, adding sufficient earth to fill up equal to eleven inches and twenty-eight feet in width:
    • Totaled $16,885 ($593,300 today).
For planking one mile of street sixteen feet wide with a three-inch oak plank, spiked with a wrought iron spike to five oak stringers, four by six inches, adding sufficient earth to fill up to eleven inches high and twenty feet wide:
    • Totaled $11,703 ($411,200 today).
For planking one mile of street twelve feet wide with a three-inch oak plank, spiked with a wrought iron spike to four oak stringers, four by six inches, adding sufficient earth to fill up to eleven inches high and sixteen feet wide:
    • Totaled $9,201 ($323,300 today)
Estimate of cost of macadamizing one mile of the street, one course of stone broken to four-inch maximum diameter, eight inches deep, and covered with one course of stone, broken to two and one-quarter inches maximum diameter, six inches deep, also to grade the road-bed so as to make a suitable face for the stone:
    • Twenty-Four Feet Wide; $15,644 ($549,681 today)
    • Sixteen Feet Wide; $10,516 ($369,500 today)
    • Twelve Feet Wide; $8,008 ($281,375 today)
We are informed by the Superintendent that the estimates for macadamizing are made at what it would cost the city to do the work-by-day labor but that it is probable the same work could be contracted for at nearly a thousand dollars less per mile. 

September 8, 1859, Chicago Tribune:  A request to the Horse Railway Company to make sure that their road is well [water] sprinkled, particularly on the Macadamized part where the dust is already insufferable.

These estimates, it must be remembered in forming an opinion as to the best mode of making a roadbed, are for the first cost of the work and have no reference to the expense of keeping it in good order, which is quite as important a consideration as the other. It is to be regretted that the report of the Superintendent does not contain at least some approximate estimates upon this point. It would be scarcely satisfactory to those who we pay for street improvements to tell them that this or that method is the cheapest at the outset than any other when in fact, at the expiration of five to ten years, it may be found the most expensive, owing to the cost of repairs necessary to keep the street in passable condition. The public will be far more capable of forming a correct judgment as to the comparative value of the two kinds of improvement when it is furnished with at least an approximate estimate of the cost of keeping each one in good repair. In the absence of any such estimates, the controversy between the advocates of planking and macadamizing will probably be continued with unabated pertinacity.

There are some objections to macadamizing which are entitled to the serious consideration of our readers, the most important of which, so far as comfort and health are concerned, is dust. All experience shows that macadamized roads, by the time they are worn down to a comfortable smoothness, are covered with fine dust, which is not only excessively disagreeable but most injurious to eyes and lungs. This dust is constantly accumulating by attrition until the whole material of which the road is composed is either ground up or sunk beneath the surface of the earth. Macadamize Harrison or any other street, and it will share the fate of all other macadamized roads; either the atmosphere will be constantly filled with minute particles of pulverized stone, or the street, from being well watered, covered with stone paste, if it may be so called, from one to six inches deep. How much consideration may be given to this drawback is somewhat uncertain when it is remembered that, to a far greater extent than it should, the question of immediate cheapness controls the public decision as to the method to be chosen. The Superintendent has decided that macadamizing is the least expensive at the start, and with many persons, this is quite sufficient to determine the matter.

A word as to the much abused planking. Some of our citizens may recollect the planking put down many years ago on Lake Street, between State and Dearborn Streets. If we remember rightly, the planks were four inches thick, having been made by ripping eight-inch square timber. After it had been in place some seven years, it was taken up to lay a gas pipe for some analogous purpose. A friend who was passing as the time assures us that he examined the planks, then temporarily removed them, saw them sawed across and that they were not at all decayed. The only loss they appeared to have sustained was from the mechanical attrition of the wheels and horses' feet which had passed over them, and that was inconsiderable. The material seemed to be perfectly good for three more years of service.

It deserved to be carefully considered whether substantial planking of this character will not require fewer repairs than macadamizing, especially if laid upon a well-drained roadbed of sand or gravel.  We think such a planking, thoroughly laid down, would be good for ten years at least. A great deal of the planking heretofore done has been so imperfectly executed that is has, we think, produced a wrong impression as to the usefulness and durability of that mode of covering streets.

The estimates of the Superintendent are satisfactory so far as they go. Still, we trust that that officer, or some other person possessing the necessary data, will furnish the public with the cost per mile of the kind of planking we have indicated, and also a comparative estimate of the durability, cost of repairs, etc., of such planking and macadamizing. The subject is one of great importance, and now, at the very onset, it is best that the public should be supplied with all possible information relative to this substitution of macadamizing for planking the street of minor importance, for they take it for granted that the principal thoroughfares will be covered with much better material than either of them.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] What is a "Macadamized" Street?
A macadamized street is a road that is made of crushed stone that is compacted into layers. The name comes from the Scottish engineer John Loudon McAdam, who invented the process in the early 19th century.

Macadamized roads are characterized by their durability and ability to withstand heavy traffic. They are also relatively inexpensive to construct and maintain.

The basic principle of macadamization is to use crushed stone of different sizes to create a roadbed that is both strong and porous. The largest stones are placed at the bottom, followed by smaller stones and then a layer of fine gravel. The stones are compacted using rollers or tamping machines, which helps to create a smooth, even surface.

In some cases, a binder material, such as asphalt or tar, may be added to the macadam to help bind the stones together and prevent them from shifting. However, McAdam originally designed his roads to be unbound, relying on the weight of traffic to compact the stones and create a stable surface.

Macadamized roads were first introduced in the United States in the early 1820s and quickly became the standard for road construction. They were used to build many of the major highways and roads in the country, and they continue to be used today in some areas.

Advantages of macadamized streets: Durable and can withstand heavy traffic, Drains well, preventing mud, relatively inexpensive to construct, and can be used in a variety of climates.

Disadvantages of macadamized streets: They can be noisy, dusty, slippery in wet weather, and requires regular maintenance.

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