Crews working to address the scourge of drivers: potholes

By Corene Brisendine

Until the end of March, city street supervisor Jeff Davis will be sending crews out every day in search of one thing: potholes.

Those crews probably won’t have to look hard. In January alone, the city received 33 “inquiries” about street problems, with potholes high on the list.

Although potholes can happen at any point in the year, they seem to be most prevalent in winter. All pavement cracks, whether it is concrete or asphalt, and when that happens moisture seeps beneath the top layer, then “pops” the pavement off its base. Davis said the repeated freezing and thawing of moisture during the winter accelerates that process.

“Eventually, [pavement] gets to a point where it deteriorates,” Davis said. “It’s going to crack.”

The repair crews may go out each morning with an idea of where they’ll find potholes. As citizens report potholes via phone or email, Davis can alert the crews about where to go next. On days when the list is not long, the crews may also visit areas known to have had pothole problems.

The crews use a machine takes on average 5 to 10 minutes to fix each pothole. The machine “blows” out the debris from the hole, then puts “tack oil” in the bottom before mixing rock and tack oil together to fill the hole. The process takes longer if crews need to work by hand, because they have sweep the debris out themselves, then manually pour and pack the tack oil and rock into the hole.

He said three street repair crews and a pair of guys who run the pothole machine are available to fix potholes. Asphalt plants are currently closed due to winter weather. But once they start operating again, usually in late March, he will not have as many crews available for pothole work. That makes this the prime repair season, especially when the weather is nice, as it is expected to be this week. He said they crews repaired potholes along Sunset Avenue near Lafene just after this last snow.

Davis said a crew is currently working on Ella Lane repairing a sinkhole that developed earlier this winter, but because of the weather could not be fully repaired until now.

While the cause is typically the same, sinkholes are fundamentally different from potholes. A pothole develops between the top coat and the base coat of the street, whereas a sinkhole starts beneath the entire street—the base and top coats.

He said sinkholes and potholes are both typically created by water.

In a sinkhole, he said water usually washes away the sub-grade and that causes at “void” under the pavement. That void then allows the street to “sink” into the ground. Sometimes, he said, sinkholes are created when the dirt of the sub-grade was not packed good enough and settles on its own, resulting in a sinkhole.

In the Northview area, Davis said there are several problems, not just potholes between Allen Road and Casement Road. He said several streets, including Strong Avenue where several potholes have developed, need more than just pothole repairs.

Dale Houdeshell, director of public works, said the department is currently evaluating all the streets in Manhattan for the 2013 repairs budget, and that includes a section of streets in the Northview area. He said the city uses outside contractors for repairs that are too large for the city’s repair crews.

“We do what we can with our crews and augment that with outside contractors,” he said. “Annually, besides our street maintenance work, we have contracted about $800,000 in repairs and capital improvements.”

He said the department has an annual budget dedicated to capital improvement projects, and this time of year is when they are determining where to make those improvements. Since this is an annual budget, he said they do not assess special taxes on the adjacent properties.

Houdeshell said they are trying to set a budget for two to three years out, but historically they have only assessed street repairs and improvements on an annual basis.

Houdeshell said they use computer software to helps them evaluate the streets in need of repairs.

Then they go out to those streets to perform an on-site inspection before making a final decision. Also, he said they try to group projects together to make it more cost effective for the city to make repairs.

He said the city’s street crews have other responsibilities and can’t be tied down to a larger project, not to mention the equipment needed for larger projects. Houdeshell said it would not be cost-effective to use the city’s resources in that way, so they contract out the larger jobs, or ones that would take too long for the city’s crews to complete.

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