Puyallup Herald

Why is the new Shaw Road in Puyallup so bumpy?

Shaw Road set to reopen at the end of December

A stretch of Shaw Road between 23rd Avenue Southeast and Manorwood Drive is re-opening at the end of December. Improvements to the road include a left turn lane, sidewalks, and a mixed-use trail.
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A stretch of Shaw Road between 23rd Avenue Southeast and Manorwood Drive is re-opening at the end of December. Improvements to the road include a left turn lane, sidewalks, and a mixed-use trail.

Drivers have been using the new Shaw Road in Puyallup for about two weeks.

The road reopened Dec. 21 after an eight-month, $7.2 million improvement project.

In those two weeks, drivers have developed some questions. Specifically — why is the road so bumpy?

The answer lies in the design, according to city staff.

The new Shaw Road was constructed using a mixture of cement, water and coarse aggregate called “pervious” concrete. Often used for its environmental benefits and durability, pervious concrete can last from 20 to 40 years with little to no maintenance and saving costs in the long run.

“Some drivers have noticed that joints were installed between the new concrete panels,” the city stated on its website. “The purpose of these joints is to facilitate the natural expansion and contraction of the concrete and make it less likely to crack. Drivers may feel and hear these joints as their vehicles pass over them.”

They felt and heard them, all right.

Some commuters shared their experiences with the city on Facebook.

“When will the final paving be completed? This can’t be the finished project?! #bumpyroad,” wrote one Facebook user.

“I’m glad it is open now but is it supposed to be so bumpy? I expected nice smooth road but it feels like it’s years old,” added another.

The city received so many comments that an explanation was added to its website.

The joints causing the “bumpiness” in the road ensure “that any cracking happens at these specific locations rather than elsewhere in the panels,” wrote city spokeswoman Brenda Fritsvold in an email to The Herald. This makes the road easier to maintain and fix when it does crack.

But should drivers be hearing it?

Generally, pervious concrete has a rougher texture than other concrete — it’s often described to look like a “Rice Krispie Treat” — but at the same time, that roughness shouldn’t be extreme, said Brett Ruffing, executive vice president of membership and communications for the National Ready Mix Concrete Association (NRMCA).

“It won’t be as smooth as traditional concrete or asphalt, but it should be smooth enough for driving cars,” Ruffing said.

Andrew Marks, managing director of the Puget Sound Concrete Specification Council, said that a lack of surface smoothness is a known construction issue that could happen when working with any type of concrete, pervious or otherwise.

“The fact that people are noticing this, and (the road is) brand new, that tells me it almost has to be some aspect of the construction,” Marks said.

The city of Puyallup is now looking toward the next phases of the Shaw Road project, including expanding the three lanes both to the north and to the south.

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