Change of seasons makes for rough roads

Richard Ennis

As spring draws near, those perennial asphalt annoyances rattle cars and trucks to their cores and damage tires, wheels and front ends. They even break windshields.
“This is the worst year for potholes we’ve ever had,” said Greg Kolinski, supervisor of street maintenance for the City of Minneapolis. He has worked for the city for 24 years.
A high incident year for potholes is exactly why administrators from the University’s Parking and Transportation Services have activated a “Pothole Hotline” that motorists and cyclists can use to report the craters.
Rising and falling temperatures, which are typical of spring, cause potholes. Above-freezing temperatures allow water to seep through cracks in the pavement and into the ground. When temperatures drop, the freezing ground expands, pushing against the pavement, which collapses when cars and trucks run over the weakened areas, leaving potholes.
As more traffic runs over them, the potholes grow deeper and wider. It’s not unusual for potholes to reach more than eight to 10 inches deep, if not repaired.
Steve Sanders, a project manager for Parking and Transportation Services, said the University receives about 10 to 15 calls daily, but hundreds of calls pour into the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Works departments.
Some of those calls are from Sanders because he reviews the voice messages that are left on the University’s hotline and determines whether the reported potholes are on University, Hennepin County, state or city property.
He then notifies the appropriate agencies. Each department examines the reported sites and compiles a daily priorities list for the maintenance crews, according to the severity of the potholes. The most damaging holes get attention first.
Sanders said most of the calls he receives concern the area around the Washington Avenue Bridge on the Minneapolis campus and the streets near Cleveland Avenue on the St. Paul campus.
He’s had just one report of a flat tire so far this year, allegedly caused by a pothole.
Potholes can cost motorists, on average, more than $100 a year in vehicle repairs, according to representatives from Michigan’s American Automobile Association services.
However, motorists are not the only people affected by potholes. Bicycles and motorcycles are much more vulnerable to damage than cars or trucks.
Paul Baepler, an English professor, said, “people mainly think of (potholes) in terms of the damage they can do with cars. I’m a biker, both a bicyclist and a motorcyclist, and they pose an even bigger problem for someone like me.”
Sanders said about half of his complaints are from cyclists. He also rides a bike on campus and said, “You can’t go through standing water unless you’re really brave.”
The University’s general maintenance department, within Parking and Transportation Services, temporary fills big holes that are most likely to be hazardous until they can be repaired professionally with the proper asphalt material, said Ed Tolan, supervisor of the department.
Allied Blacktop performs repairs for the University. A spokesman for Allied said they use from two to five tons of asphalt per day.
Small pickings, compared to the Twin Cities’ Public Works departments.
In Minneapolis alone, 50 to 60 tons of asphalt are used daily. The cost of pothole maintenance is between $6,000 and $8,000 per day, most of which covers costs for the labor of about 30 crew members.
Of 800 tons of asphalt allotted for this year’s repairs for Minneapolis, only 25 to 30 tons remain, and it’s early in the season, Kolinski said. So city workers have had to rely on St. Paul’s asphalt mix plant.
St. Paul’s hot asphalt mix plant opened earlier this year than ever before and St. Paul’s Public Works uses up to 49 tons daily, said Supervisor Jim Crudo. The plant was forced to open early because potholes are so numerous and severe throughout the Twin Cities this year.
Hot mix is the longest lasting and most adhesive material for filling potholes. But once the hot mix cools, it can’t be used again. That’s why this time of year, when temperatures tend to be lower than 40 degrees, maintenance crews usually use a cold mix that have adhesive properties that are not affected by cooling.
Regardless of which mixture is used, the filler is only a temporary fix; it is meant to last until the weather warms enough to apply permanent blacktop repairs.
Permanent through summer, anyway.

To reach the Pothole Hotline, call 626-7578.