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Posted on Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Permeable pavement: Burns Park alley reconstruction gets environmental upgrade

By Juliana Keeping


The city of Ann Arbor is resurfacing this Burns Park alley with permeable concrete, which it hopes to have a positive environmental impact on the Huron River. Porous paving materials help slow the rush of water during a storm.

Jeff Sainlar |

An alley in the Burns Park neighborhood is undergoing an environmentaly friendly makeover in Ann Arbor - and more projects like it could be on the way.

It’s the city’s first permeable pavement project in an alley and the first to use permeable concrete, said Nick Hutchinson, a senior project engineer for Ann Arbor.

The 800-foot, unnamed alley runs between two rows of residences between Wells Street and Scott Court, parallel to Martin Place and Lincoln Avenue, Hutchinson said. Crews are replacing the pockmarked gravel and crumbling concrete surface in the alley with permeable concrete that will filter precipitation underground, where it will be held and released by a bed of porous stones.

The $213,000 project - which began Wednesday - is the third street reconstruction project to involve porous materials in recent years, he said.

The permeable concrete material resembles a “gray Rice Crispies Treat,” Hutchinson said.

Porous paving materials help slow the rush of water during a storm that can erode soil and dump sediments into the Huron. The systems are designed to filter pollutants that would otherwise wash into the river.

Residents in the area began to inquire about resurfacing the alley after streets in the neighborhood were rebuilt in recent years, Hutchinson said. The project is expected to be completed on Nov. 2.

While the city has no designated funds to improve alleyways, it went after a $215,000 low-interest state loan for storm water improvements from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the alley.

Hutchinson estimated that the project would cost $155,000 if the project were done with traditional concrete.

As construction begins on the Burns Park alley, the water committee of the Ann Arbor environmental commission is gearing up to form a “green streets policy” for city streets. If adopted by City Council, that could mean more projects like this one, said Jen Lawson, water quality manager for Ann Arbor.

Other permeable pavement projects around town in recent years have included Easy Street’s resurfacing between Packard Road and Towner Boulevard, completed in 2007, was part of a larger project that included a sidewalk, new water main and features to slow traffic near Buhr Park in southeast Ann Arbor.

Workers installed permeable pavers on the sides of the road to help address standing water that gathered after storms, speeding up the deterioration of the road, said Cresson Slotten, manager of the systems planning unit for Ann Arbor.

Sylvan Avenue between White and Packard streets in central Ann Arbor was completed in 2010, resurfaced with permeable asphalt, Hutchinson said. The project cost about $480,000, which included water main work and the replacement of sidewalks as well.

The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority oversaw the installation of permeable pavement in the surface parking lot at Fifth Avenue and William Street in 2008, where the former YMCA stood.

Next up for the city of Ann Arbor is a possible stormwater management project for Willard Street on the University of Michigan campus, Hutchinson said.

“It might be permeable pavement,” he said. “It remains to be seen.”

Lawson said a green policy would encompass more than porous streets, which don’t make sense for traffic-heavy roadways. The city has been keeping an eye on its projects to see how they hold up to Michigan climate.

Additional vegetation along roadways and tactics like decreasing road width are ways other cities with green streets policies have helped limit hard surfaces that pour water directly into drains and into the Huron River, she said.

The water committee has been studying green streets policies in other municipalities and next meets Nov. 10, Lawson said.

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for Follow special project Viking's War on Facebook and Twitter

Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter



Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 2:24 p.m.

Where is the alley? I would like to see it


Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 10:11 p.m.

"The 800-foot, unnamed alley runs between two rows of residences between Wells Street and Scott Court, parallel to Martin Place and Lincoln Avenue, Hutchinson said." Does that help?


Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 12:42 p.m.

"An unnamed alley" is involved. Do you, the road, wish to remain anonymous? Like we wouldn't be able to figure out who you were based on your description. Why don't you want to reveal your name? It's almost as if you never had one. What have you done? Why are you in hiding behind houses? What are you covering up?


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 4:36 p.m.

Why are we paving alleys and laying off firefighters? It's unfathomable that SOMEBODY at the corner of 5th Ave. and Huron can't see the big picture. They should be called out on silliness like this next time they ask for a millage.


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 2:26 p.m.

To Mike You're welcome to "guess" that the permeable pavement costs "3-5 times as much". According to the article though, the project costs $213,000 instead of $155,000 for more traditional pavement. That's 1.4 times as much. So, why pay an extra 60 grand for the fancy pavement? I'm not an expert, but here's a few guesses: 1) the financing was only available for fancy pavement: "state loan for storm water improvements" is funding the project. Regular pavement probably wouldn't have qualified--it was either fancy or nothing. 2) the environmental benefits, amortized over the life of the project, might reduce or even eliminate the effective cost 3) the reduced strain and thus maintenance on the stormwater drainage system, amortized over the life of the project, might reduce of even eliminate the effective cost. 4) trying a new pavement on a limited test like this creates the opportunity to learn about the material and its suitability (or not) for Michigan winters and Ann Arbor alleyways. With such knowledge, the government is better equipped to make decisions about larger projects in the future. Why do the project now, when times are tough? 1) waiting to do the project when the economy is back on its feet means that government will pay more for the resources to carry it out. In boom times, concrete, construction workers, capital and everything else is in short supply and prices spike. Nowadays, of course, there is little demand (low prices, low wages, low interest). Our government can get bargins by buying when everyone else is on the sidelines. 2) waiting to do the project means that much longer with a substandard alleyway that imposes costs (damaged vehicles etc.) on everyone who uses it. 3) waiting to do the project means forgoing any gains in property values that may accrue as a result I'm not an expert, and haven't seen this alleyway, but I believe that these are pretty reasonable answers to some of your questions. -Ann Arbor Taxpayer


Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 1:59 a.m.

We had to borrow the money because we don't have it. Would you spend your own money on something that was unneccesary and could be done for less (only 1.4 times more)? No, of course you wouldn't. So why do you spend my hard earned money recklessly? That's the problem. Who keeps the pores clean so the pavement continues to be permeable? What about frost heave due to satuarated soils? This is Michigan and we do have freezing weather. As long as the green agenda is satisfied and you can collect tax dollars or print more money (or borrow it) there's no stopping folks like you. wow..............

Peter Baker

Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 5:19 p.m.

Well put. I think the upfront expenditure vs lifetime cost is a point that gets lost in almost all discussions of municipal financing; if we do it right at the outset, it could actually end up costing us less in the long run.


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 2:08 p.m.

Sweet. Burns Park alley desperately in need of fixing. Dire. Very dire. Must definitely be worse than the worst lower income areas of Ann Arbor that need street and alley repairs. So sad that Mayor Hieftje's neighborhood has a messy alley. Wouldn't want any luxury cars or designer shoes to get dirty. Tsk. Tsk. I will feel really safe now parking my BMW in Burns Park knowing that my big car sits on 'green' ground. As in dollars. $$$$.


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 12:51 p.m.

We are spending over 25% more for this project to be "GREEN"? Is this really being smart? "project would cost $155,000 if the project were done with traditional concrete." "$215,000 low-interest state loan for storm water improvements"


Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 1:53 a.m.

There are many things done with our tax dollars that are agenda/philosophically driven. That would include bike paths, wind farms, ethanol, mercury filled lights, permeable pavement, Solyndra and other green initatives. Cost is never a consideration when you are driven by emotion and ideology AND you're spending someone elses money. The government continues to drive us deeper in debt and print/devalue our dollar while we continue to spend without concern for cost destroying our economy while "saving" our planet.


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 12:10 p.m.

I can tell you from personal experience once the ground is frozen it is impermeable. So any rains after the frost is in the ground will result in the same run-off. I would guess the permeable pavement is at least 3-5 times the cost and because it is permeable it allows more moisture into the ground and therefore would be more likely to heave. You also need permeable soil underneath the permeable pavers or the water will be trapped under the pavement exacerbating the frost heave issue. Also once the subsoils are saturated and you drive over the pavement what is to keep the liquified earth from pumping out from under the pavement? And what keeps the pavement "pores" from plugging up with silt and organic material? You could create a retention area on your property if you're concerned about run-off or install a drywell and collect the water for irrigation. That option would of course not be paid for with tax dollars (i.e. all of your neighbors money) so I can understand why it's not popular. The city borrowed money (low interest of course) to put in more expensive pavement during a time of extreme budget issues? Why not wait until your fiscal house is in order to try these new things out? I don't understand the policy of borrowing even more money than you need to replace an alleyway. Can anyone explain that to me? If I could re-pave 3-5 times the amount of bad roads/alleyways with the same amount of money why would you make this decision?


Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 1:46 a.m.

@a2cents - please enlighten me on the engineering aspects I am missing since we are dealing with water and soils here and I am an engineer .


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

(poor understanding of engineering aspects, perhaps?)

The Picker

Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 12:28 p.m.

Spending beyond their means is what gov't does these days! Just suck it up and pay your taxes, they know what's best for you!

The Picker

Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 12:05 p.m.

It about time the city starts dealing with the city alleys. They provide access to half the parking in this town. My suprise that "Burns Park" gets the attention. Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others. Somehow I doubt that this alley was one of the worst in the city. Access to parking only gets the cities' attention when they can charge someone.


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 1:41 p.m.

two words "Burns Park".


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 12:01 p.m.

This is wonderful because the project will generate $2,130 for the Mayor's art fund!!


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 11:57 a.m.

The surface of the subject alley has been gravel (permeable gravel, I think) since I was a kid in the 1960's. Whether the new pavement is permeable or not, the reality is that rain water falling on an alley without curbs will likely run off its sides and permeate the adjacent soil well before it is absorbed by the permeable pavement. Two hundred grand for an 800-foot alley? Unbelievable! Anybody driven over the Stadium Boulevard bridge lately? What's happening with that? It seems to me that our road-improvement priorities should be reviewed.


Sat, Oct 22, 2011 : 10:08 p.m.

5c0++ H4d13y I don't know about the overall permeability of the Stadium bridge, but it certainly has gotten a lot more porous in the last few years.

5c0++ H4d13y

Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 12:48 p.m.

Stadium bridge is permeable as well.


Fri, Oct 21, 2011 : 10:55 a.m.

I've been interested in the permeable concrete concept. Like they indicated, it wouldn't serve roads well but it maybe useful for low or light traffic areas such as sidewalks other hardscapes. Does anyone know how the stuff has worked in freeze-thaw? Any thrusting or lifting? Does it lose its permeability in the dead of winter and does it spall? The article notes there have been some trial areas but doesn't answer any such questions. I can see strip mall parking lots being paved in part or wholly with this stuff. Maybe residential driveways too? It would help avoid a lot of ponding and water accumulation on lower lying properties by avoiding fast runoff on rainy days. That's not just good for the environment but is good for the properties as well. Hope this works and is a reasonable cost.